The Russian presence in Syria is strategically related both to the Russian activities in Ukraine and the US actions at the edges of the old Iron Curtain of the “Cold War”.
In other words, the Russian Federation wants to separate the Eastern region and the Persian Gulf area, by penetrating between the two so as to determine the future developments.
Moreover, Russia plans to make its access to the Mediterranean safe, in view of its new role as a global power in the Mediterranean horizontal axis stretching from Istanbul to Gibraltar.
If this strategic bet succeeds, Russia will defuse the whole NATO control system stretching from Romania to the Czech Republic and will fill the geopolitical void left by the United States in the Middle East.
We must not forget that Russia fears the jihad expansion in its former post-Soviet republics of Islamic tradition and it wants to curb and contain the Islamist war in a micro-regional context so as to finally eliminate it.
It is by no mere coincidence that, over the last few days, Crimea’s Jamaat, mainly composed of Islamized Tatars, has sworn allegiance – according to legal Koranic formula of baya’t – to the Al Nusra Front, the official organization of Al Qaeda operating in Syria.
Furthermore if we consider that the Afghan Taliban have penetrated into the Kandahar region and that the jihadist organization Ahrar al Sham has bombed with missiles the areas pertaining to the Russian forces in Syria, the matrix of threats is complete: Russia wants to regionalize the Syrian-Iraqi jihad to avoid the Islamist contagion along its borders (and also Afghanistan is a border for Russia) and play a major role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the geopolitical structure which will stabilize the Central-Asian Heartland excluding any NATO and US interference from it.
On their side, the United States have only one recognizable goal in Syria: to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and replace him with a leader making the Syrian-Iraqi axis “viable” for the American interest.
Nevertheless there is an important strategic and geopolitical problem: as Alawites connected both to Shiite Iran and to the large Alevi community in Turkey and in the rest of the Fertile Crescent, the Assads allow to preserve the balance between the various Syrian ethnic groups and sects.
In fact, the US logic of destabilizing the Assad regime shows its intention to make the Iranian regime be surrounded by hostile groups and States, thus ensuring to Saudi Arabia a foothold among the Syrian Sunnis, who are the majority in the country.
It is also said that the destabilization of the Syrian regime is connected to the Qatar Petroleum’s project, a pipeline/gas pipeline going from Al Thani’s Emirate to Turkey, which would replace the hydrocarbons coming from Russia.
This is partially true, but we must avoid oversimplifying and reducing strategic issues to a mere exercise of Marxist “historical materialism”.
But the support provided by the United States to the Sunnis implies a leadership role in the now evident contrast between Sunnis and Shiites, which will determine the shape and weight of the future Greater Middle East.
It is worth recalling that also the Hazara Afghans are Shiites and that in Afghanistan the Shiites are a quarter of the population. In Turkey the followers of Ali are a minority (about 20% of the population), while in Azerbaijan the Shiites are 80% of the population. In Pakistan, the Shiites – the followers of Ali, son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet – account for 20% of the population.
Hence Russia is positioning itself as a “global policeman” of the Shiite world, while the United States remain closely linked to the Sunni universe.
Therefore the Russian operations in Syria are the first challenge to the hegemonic role played by the United States throughout the world.
Meanwhile the Americans withdraw, in advance, the aircraft carrier “Theodore Roosevelt” from the Manama base in Bahrain so as to avoid it becoming a target for the Russian missiles Kalibr 3M14. So far, however, the largest amount of Russian attacks has focused on Jablah, in the governorate of Latakia.
Furthermore, if the Alawite regime is kept in power thanks to Russia, the political negotiations on the future of the Syrian-Iraqi axis will mostly be in the hands of Russia, which will avoid ensuring to the United States the strategic depth to control Iraq and, from there, the system of regional seas and the central Asian areas, from sea or from land.
Moreover the Sunni system will be sealed into the Arabian Peninsula, without the possibility of expanding to the Persian Gulf and towards the Horn of Africa, where the Houthi Shiite guerrilla warfare in Yemen blocks any passageway towards the African areas which could serve to militarily affect the passageways towards the Suez Canal.
Basically Russia’s current project in Syria is to regionalize the Sunnis and block the line uniting Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Turkey, as well as make the Shiite regional system connect to the South of the Russian Federation.
If Russia wins this match, the bipolar world will be rebuilt – but in favour of the Slav universe – with a Greater Middle East linked to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and outside the NATO and American horizons.
A united Europe without the Mediterranean – hence deprived of any maritime depth and strategically weak compared to the new States of the Maghreb region and the strategic system of the Persian Gulf.
Suffice to think of the effects of this new geopolitical system on the acquisition and control of oil and gas resources.
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.