UPDATED: “Russia has deployed a naval unit in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the Soviet era, a move Russian President Vladimir Putin says is aimed at defending Russian security, but which comes as Moscow faces off with the West over Syria,” reports Israel Hayom. “Russia’s military chief of staff said on Thursday that Russia had stationed 16 warships and three ship-based helicopters in the region.”
“Putin said the deployment was not ‘saber-rattling’ and not meant as a threat to any nation,” the Israeli news outlet reported. “‘This is a strategically important region and we have tasks to carry out there to provide for the national security of the Russian Federation,’ Putin said. On Wednesday, Russian warships believed to be carrying arms to resupply the Syrian regime were spotted in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, according to a CNN report. The report cited U.S. intelligence sources that stated they had identified the ships leaving Russian ports several days ago. Using U.S. satellite imagery, they had further identified containers thought to be carrying parts of the advanced S-300 anti-missile system, as well as other weapons to be used by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military…..”
“Large-scale naval exercises Russia held in March and ship movements near Syria have been seen in the West as muscle-flexing by Moscow, which has sold weapons to Assad’s government and shielded it from any action by the U.N. Security Council,” Israel Hayom reported. “Russia maintains its only port in the Mediterranean in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus. Putin’s announcement comes days after Moscow said it planned to resume patrols by nuclear-armed submarines in the southern seas as part of a Putin’s broader effort to revive Russia’s military might. Putin has stressed the importance of a strong military since returning to the presidency last May. In 13 years in power, he has often cited external threats when talking of the need for agile armed forces and Russian political unity.”
Why is this is significant? Because it shows Putin is steadily escalating Russian military involvement in the Middle East — the Kremlin is supplying arms to the Assad regime in Damascus, offering to put Russian troops on the Golan Heights as part of a UN “peacekeeping” mission, and bolstering its alliances with Iran and Lebanon.
“On Wednesday, Qusair fell to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Qusair is a strategic town that connects Damascus with Assad’s Alawite heartland on the Mediterranean, with its ports and Russian naval base. It’s a major strategic shift. Assad’s forces can now advance on rebel-dominated areas in central and northern Syria, including Aleppo.
“For the rebels, it’s a devastating loss of territory, morale and their supply corridor to Lebanon. No one knows if this reversal of fortune will be the last, but everyone knows that Assad now has the upper hand….
“What altered the tide of battle was brazen outside intervention. A hardened, well-trained, well-armed Hezbollah force — from the terrorist Shiite group that dominates Lebanon and answers to Iran — crossed into Syria and drove the rebels out of Qusair, which Syrian artillery has left a smoking ruin.
“This is a huge victory not just for Tehran but also for Moscow, which sustains Assad in power and prizes its warm-water port at Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside of the former Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has stationed a dozen or more Russian warships offshore, further protecting his strategic outpost and his Syrian client.
“The losers? NATO-member Turkey, the major supporter of the rebels; Jordan, America’s closest Arab ally, now drowning in half a million Syrian refugees; and America’s Gulf allies, principal weapons suppliers to the rebels. And the United States, whose bystander president, having declared that Assad must go, that he has lost all legitimacy and that his fall is just a matter of time, is looking not just feckless but clueless.”