Russia’s Mediterannean fleet: Is that a “big deal” after all?


Following the explosions which occurred in the Turkish-Syrian borders along with the recent news coming from the Syrian front, we have “stumbled across” reports, opinions and in general elements that do not necessarily reflect the truth or at least the magnitude of the projected truth. Today, Sunday May 12, the Russian admiral Victor Chirkov announced that the process is underway for creating a permanent staff to run Russian fleet operations in the Mediterranean Sea. In other words the Mediterranean fleet, which is a fragment of the Soviet Union’s 5th Mediterranean Squadron which was disbanded in 1992, is almost ready.

So far so good, but the number of ships are estimated to be 5-6 plus, as DEBKA reports, nuclear submarines able to launch nuclear ballistic missiles. This is “The threat”, i.e 5-6 warships and possibly a submarine (nuclear OK). Now, based on those reports DEBKA analyzes: “The new permanent deployment is the next Russian step for safeguarding Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus and deterring military attacks on his Hizballah allies and Iranian interests in their three-way bloc…”. Can this be done with 5-6 warships and is Russia ever going to use its nuclear deterrent…for Syria? We think that the above statement is slightly exaggerated. It is true that Moscow is re-surfacing in the Mediterranean region, a region the importance of which has been upgraded due to Greece’s, Cyprus’s and Israel’s newly discovered natural resources, but the symbolic presence-for now-of a flotilla comprising 6 ships has nothing to do with supporting Assad or saving Iran from a possible bombing campaign or even more absurdly aid Hezbollah. 

This is not the end of it, though. The distinguished DEBKA continues: “Given all these circumstances, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances are virtually nil of getting anywhere in his trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to persuade President Vladimir Putin to hold back advanced S-300 anti-air missiles from Syria”. 

Even if that is true-which is not-where does that conclusion stem from? Putin threatened to sell S-300 A/A missiles because Israel interfered in the Syrian crisis, not once or twice, but three times so far. Putin possibly wants to “shake off” Netanyahu a little bit and corner him by convincing him to stay put and let the diplomats work towards a political solution of this crisis. Aside, though, from DEBKA, which as mentioned is a distinguished website and most of the times its analyses are accurate and concrete, several other “experts” feel free to express their opinion anyway they want to. In Francois Picard’s debate today: “The world this week”, which is also serious and a source of esteemed guests expressing logical conclusions after having engaged in constructive debates, some “shots” were fired, out of the blue, in terms of this matter. One of the guests (Anne Penketh, Freelance journalist) stated: “I watched the press conference in Moscow and Kerry looked weak! He did look weak, because I do not know why he went out of his way to full over backwards to be nice with Vladimir Putin”.

First of all, people need to digest that Vladimir Putin is a legitimate leader, who was elected by the Russian people following a fully democratic process! Second, it happens that Russia has a naval base, or better stated THE ONLY NAVAL BASE in Syria and is in direct contact with the Assad regime in terms of support, both logistical and military including advisers on the ground.

The statement sounded so absurd that Francois Picard himself intervened and said “which is what David Cameron did when he visited Sochi”. Another guest (Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief, Newsweek Magazine and Columnist, The Daily Beast) asked rhetorically “what are they {Americans} gonna do? What’s their grand plan?”, explaining further that a military intervention from the US’s side would be counter-productive and would require more than just a few planes bombing elements of the Syrian army. They would also need advisers on the ground and nobody is in fact contemplating such kind of a solution at the moment except of “extreme Republicans” such as John McCain.

And then it was Craig Copetas’s turn to “fire away” after Francois Picard asked him whether Russians are hedging their bet or just saying one thing and doing another. “The Russians are actually making money…they have always done that as a forefront prior to any geopolitical decision, they always wanted to secure sale of future weapons!” and further commenting on Ms Penketh’s rather offensive comment he said more or less that while the Americans have the “hearts and mind” issue as a compass to make deals, Russians take this as a weakness and that’s the way they see it.

Well, with the exception of the impeccable analysis of Christopher Dickey, who grasped the idea of why this upcoming political solution is so important, the other two made comments, which were absolutely groundless and seemed more like speculation and talking over a country and a political system which they neither know nor understand. Mr Copetas’s comments may have been valid 30 years ago when the USSR was alive and a different political system ran through the country, but the way we see it, this is the Russian Federation and Sergei Lavrov travels from a diplomatic meeting to another in order to resolve the Syrian crisis, instead of “selling weapons”, that’s ROSOBORONEXPORT’S job by the way, not Lavrov’s.

Finally Anne Penketh’s comments failed to honor both her name and the job title she bears as a Freelance Journalist. It goes without saying that once one finds himself as a guest to such a prestigious debate, the individual has to be reasonable so as to explain to the people who are watching and are not as familiar with the subject as he/she is, what is actually at hand and how the situation is translated into real life terms. As it seems, though, nothing should be taken for granted given the circumstances.

We have explained before that we as well are no less confused than our colleagues when it comes to the Middle East! What is important, though, is to analyze the facts as they are reflected or will be reflected in this particular geographic area. This is the definition of a Geopolitical analysis i.e sterile of any emotions or opinions as opposed to a Geostrategic analysis in which various sides can debate over the ideas they are contemplating, provided of course that their opinions are reasonable and don’t spread panic and further haze to the already confused reader-viewer. Thus, Mr Copetas cannot just state that Russia is interested solely in arms sales, because if it was interested in that it would have sold those S-300 to Iran instead of cancelling off the deal. Ms Penketh on the other hand should learn to break free from stereotypes, which present Vladimir Putin as Ivan the Terrible to the West and Russia as a country which is stripped of Democracy. This is not an opinion, this is propaganda and that’s what the Nazis used to do in order to pass on their ideas. Of course John Kerry did the right thing by assembling many states, Russia included, so that a political solution may be achieved in the not so distant future. Moreover, he did not seem “Weak” nor was he perceived as such by his Russian colleagues, who by the way are not a bunch of an uncivilized barbarian warlords eager to spot a weakness on their interlocutor.

Last but not least, DEBKA! You cannot enter World War III with 6 ships and one or two submarines even if they are nuclear. If the Russians wanted to confront NATO in the region, wouldn’t they at least “bother” to bring in their only aircraft carrier? There is a proxy war going on, no doubt about that and there have been instances when the Spetsnaz were there fighting side by side with the Iranians on Assad’s side, but then again there have also been reports regarding Western commandos fighting alongside the rebels, not to mention of course all those times when “The Legion” was involved.

It remains to be seen, whether there will be a political solution on the Syrian crisis in a post-Assad era, however one thing is for sure! Russia and Israel have developed strong ties and the S-300 issue is just a leverage. No Hezbollah member is going to use them in order to shoot down Israeli jets! As for the Mediterranean flotilla, well we strongly think that its assemble is more relevant to the last year’s 9/11 incident in Benghazi when terrorist literally lynched the late ambassador Stephens. After all, the Americans have dispatched a contingent to check things on Libya as well, but with such a volatile situation in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, a nation’s citizens have to be protected and 5-6 ships are “just fine” for evacuation purposes.