When it comes to the loyalty Russia shares with Syria, according to our media and pundits it’s all an attempt by Russia to maintain their interests in Syria. Some will say it’s not loyalty from Russia, but Vladimir Putin’s hatred for forced regime change. Another partial truth is that Russia wants to sustain the only naval base it has in the Black Sea region. Others say Putin stands by Syria because it is the only way to avoid Syria from becoming a failed state. One thing is for sure, given the geography in a time of growing globalism and New World Order, Russia is trying to protect the sovereignty of itself and Syria. Even that reason doesn’t get to the core of why Russia has such loyalties to Syria. There is a long history between the two nations that to this day has its place in current conflicts.

The Beginning of Relations

History between Russia and Syria stretches back to the late 1800’s, when Russia was an empire, before they became the first Communist state. In 1893, Syria allowed a consular office to be located in Damascus for the Russian empire. There would be a Russian presence in Syria until the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. Russia helped to create the Syrian Lebanese Communist Party in 1924, but played no diplomatic role during the French Mandate period (1923-1946), until 1944.

After World War II, Russia had its eyes set on a presence in the Middle East, and reestablished relations with Syria in 1944. On February 1, 1946, the two nations entered into an agreement in which the Soviet Union was to provide military assistance in forming the Syrian Arab Army. In his address to the United Nations on February 15, 1946, Andrey Vyshinsky solidified the union by calling for French and British troops to leave Syria. By April 17, 1946 the last French soldiers were exiting Syrian soil. During the years of the Cold War (1947-1991), an even tighter bond was formed between the two nations which led to Syria being seen as an adversary to western nations.

Religious Wars and Political Agendas

Religious wars and political agendas during the years of the Cold War led to the relationship between the two nations becoming even closer. Syria would need its Russian ally in the wake of three military coups, and two dictatorships between the years of 1949 and 1953. To illustrate the depth of entanglement with regard to religion and politics, and how history plays a role in current conflicts, I refer to the Ba’ath Party. Other than a few history fiends like myself, people probably associate the Ba’ath Party strictly with the Saddam Hussein regime. The truth is, the Ba’ath Party played a major role in Middle East politics before Saddam Hussein was elected as Secretary-General of regional leadership of the Ba’ath Party in 1979.

On February 25, 1954, there was another military coup which resulted in the Ba’ath Party becoming the power party in Syria. What happened next should only make clear the dedication Syria and Russia have for each other. 1955 saw the creation of the Baghdad Pact which was formed by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The Baghdad Pact lasted for 29 years before being dissolved. In the beginning, then Secretary of State John Dulles reasoned that the United States could not join because of “the Pro-Israel lobby”, and the inability to gain congressional approval. On the surface, the Pact was formed to create peace in the Middle East, as well as reciprocated protection. According to a U.S. Department of State Archive, “the United States Government expressed an interest in the formation of a Middle East Command to protect the region against communist encroachment…The nature of some of the ongoing tensions in the region, like Arab-Israeli conflict and Egyptian-led anti-colonialism, made it difficult to forge an alliance that would include both Israel and Western colonial powers.” However, Syria as well as the Syrian people viewed the presence of the Ba’ath Party and the Baghdad Pact as a referendum against them. Russia, quite correctly viewed the Pact as a referendum as an attempt to keep the Soviet Union from spreading its territory in the Middle East.

Solidifying the Nation of Syria and Cementing Relations with Russia

Military coup’s would plague Syria up until 1970 when the coup known as the ‘Corrective Movement’ took place. The Corrective Movement ushered into power Hafez al-Assad, on November 13, 1970. Assad entered into a new agreement with the Soviet Union in 1976. Under the new agreement the Soviet Union was able to create a military presence in the Middle East by way of its military base in Tartus, Syria. Hence the reason today Russia has the strategic capabilities it enjoys in Syria and the Middle East. Strengthening ties between the two nations resulted in the 20 year “Treaty of Peace and Cooperation” signed by Syria and Russia in October 1980. Under the agreement both nations agreed to refrain from making alliances with any groups or states that create hostile actions toward the other nation. Although the agreement was for an original term of 20 years, there are continued 5 year extensions unless one party notifies the other of it’s intent to withdraw from the agreement.

The Arab Spring and Syrian Pro-Democracy

On June 10, 2000, Hafez al-Assad died leading to his son Bashar al-Assad replacing him on July 10, 2000. By 2011 the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and Egypt. With the presidents of both nations being ousted, hope was given to pro-democracy Syrian activists. In March of 2011, peaceful protests began and 15 youths were detained after writing graffiti on a school wall that expressed support for the Arab Spring. One of the 15, a 13 year boy was killed while in custody. This led to violent protests which kicked off the Syrian Civil War. It is alleged that Bashar al-Assad responded by killing hundreds of protestors and detaining more. In 2012 the UN presented a formal UN Security Council Condemnation of the Assad government, alleging that Assad ordered an attack on citizens in the city of Homs. Russia and China voted against the measure.

Strength Through Forgiveness

By 2005, Syria racked up $13.4 billion in debt which Russia forgave $9.6 billion of. In 2008 when the U.S. made plans to place a missile defense system in Poland, Assad agreed to turn the Russian base in Tartus into a permanent Middle East base. On January 18, 2017, another agreement was reached between the two nations which gave Russia the expansion of the Tartus base for free, for 49 years. Russia also has sovereign jurisdiction and full immunity for Russian personnel on the base.

The history between Russia and Syria is richer in detail than I could squeeze into this installment. However, it is a history that is worth researching if you want to truly understand current conflicts. Buying the watered down media narrative only serves the powers that be, and does nothing to enlighten the individual to the fact that history plays a major role in current Middle East conflicts. This is not to say that the media is playing on the minds of its readers and viewers. It is to say that the only knowledge you can truly trust is that of YOUR OWN RESEARCH! Part 4 of the Syrian Series will discuss the relationship between Iran and Syria.

James Cheef