Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin’s summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. “Stability is improving,” Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that “we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism.” (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the “terrorist threat” in Syria. (Moscow Times)
Doubtless also discussed (in private) was the “energy cooperation framework agreement” signed by Moscow and Damascus in late January. Under this deal, Russia is to have exclusive rights to exploit oil and gas in Syria. It also calls for Moscow to provide aid in resuscitating the war-damaged Syrian oil industry. OilPrice.com calls the deal “the final and unconditional consolidation of Russian interests in the Middle East.”
Before the onset of the civil war, Syrian oil production wavered at around 380,000 barrels per day, and reached an all-time peak production rate of 677,000 bpd in 2002. Current output stands at a devastating 15,000 bpd. Boosting production is clearly a key aim of the “stability” that Assad and Putin are seeking in Syria. The obvious irony is that Assad, who has played to “socialism” and “nationalism” in his rhetoric, has basically had to turn his oil resources over to a foreign power in order have any hope of achieving this aim.
Moscow had already been granted generous oil and gas concessions in Syria, but the bestowing of exclusive rights is an obvious compromise of the national sovereignty that Assad’s supporters ironically invoke in support of his campaigns of mass murder.
Russian troops are already protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the regime, amounting to de facto control on the ground. And despite Moscow’s wholly fictional “withdrawal” from Syria, some 4,000 Russian troops remain in the country, and it looks like they are there to stay. Russia last year installed a new S-350 Vityaz air-defense system at its coastal base of Tartus, pointing again to Moscow’s plans for a long-term military presence.
Meanwhile, even Robert F. Kennedy is among those spewing stupid conspiracy theories about how the Syrian insurgency was fomented for the benefit of Western plans to build a pipeline through the country—as if the oil companies and/or CIA could create a popular revolution out of thin air. They’ve got it precisely backward: as the price of Russian military support in shoring up his tottering regime, Assad has signed over Syria’s oil resources to his imperial sponsor in Moscow.
Photo of Vityaz missile launcher via Wikipedia