Russia–Syria relations

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Russia–Syria relations
Map indicating locations of Russia and Syria



Russia–Syria relations (Russian: Российско-сирийские отношения) refers to the bilateral relationship between the two countries, Russia and Syria. Russia has an embassy in Damascus and had a consulate in Aleppo, since closed down. Syria has an embassy in Moscow. Russia enjoys a historically strong, stable, and friendly relationship with Syria, as it did until the Arab Spring, with most of the Arab countries.[1] In addition, Russia's only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea Fleet is located in the Syrian port of Tartus.[2]

Early in 2012, Russia took a strong stand in support of Syria's government and against international action—promoted by Western and Arab countries against Syria. As one of five veto-wielding members of UN Security Council, Russia promised to veto any sanctions against the Syrian government put before the Security Council and continued supplying large amounts of arms that Syria had earlier contracted to buy.[3]

Russian – Syrian relations since the independence[edit]

Syria gained full independence from France on 17 April, 1946, but could not attain stability for a long period after the end of World War II. Political life in Syria, relatively calm during the years 1945-1949, entered a stage of total turmoil and disorder beginning in 1949. Three coups d'état occurred during 1949-1953, ushering in military dictatorships twice in the process. Finally, the Baas Party came to the fore in Syrian politics following the military coup d’état of February 25, 1954. With the ascendancy of the Baas Party, the USSR became an important ally for Syria.

Relations between Syria and the USSR, which had been taking an interest in the Middle East, were initiated by a secret agreement signed on February 10, 1946, just before the declaration of independence of Syria. That agreement prescribed diplomatic and political support from the USSR in the international arena and Soviet military help for the foundation of the national army. A non-aggression pact signed on April 10, 1950 further cemented Soviet–Syrian relations. This rapprochement between the two countries emerged naturally from the international conjuncture of that era. Looking at the cold war period, we see that each conflict and war that broke out in the Middle East acted as a factor leading Syria to form closer ties with the USSR.

The first event which enhanced rapprochement between USSR and Syria was the Suez Crisis. The prestige of Soviets increased in the Middle East thanks to their response to the crisis breaking out in late 1956. Soviet aid to Syria accelerated amidst a general conflict of interests in the Middle East involving Eastern and Western governments. Cooperation between the USSR and Syria included military and economic strategic agreements.

The Baghdad Pact (see Central Treaty Organization), with its ultimately unsuccessful formation of CENTO, was another development that brought the USSR and Syria closer diplomatically. Syrians perceived this agreement as a pact against themselves. Indeed, among the consequences of the Baghdad Pact were not only a deepening of Syrian relations with the USSR but also a separation of Middle Eastern countries into allied satellites of the Eastern and Western blocs.

Another development in Soviet-Syrian relations took place with the accession to power of Hafez Assad in Syria in 1970.[4]

Military cooperation[edit]

Bashar Al Assad with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev whilst on a visit to Sochi in August 2008.

The Syrian port city of Tartus hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance base, under a 1971 agreement with Syria. The base was established during the Cold War to support the Soviet Navy's fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. Since Russia forgave Syria of three-fourths, or $9.8 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt and became its main arms supplier, Russia and Syria have conducted talks about allowing Russia to develop and enlarge its naval base, so that Russia can strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean.[5] Amid Russia's deteriorating relations with the West, because of the 2008 South Ossetia War and plans to deploy a US missile defense shield in Poland, President Assad agreed to the port’s conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia’s nuclear-armed warships.[6] Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.[7]

Syria for the past few years has reached out to Russia to obtain modern weapons that included many modern anti-tank and anti-air missile systems that will further improve its combat capabilities. In 2008, Syria agreed to purchase MiG-29SMT fighters, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems, Iskander tactical missile systems, Yak-130 aircraft, and two Amur-1650 submarines from Russia. Russia's foreign minister said his country's sale of weapons to Syria would not upset the balance of power in the Middle East. The sales he stated are "in line with the international law" and "in the interests of strengthening stability and maintaining security" in regions close to Russian borders, Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to the United Nations in New York.[8] In 2011 and 2012, Syria's arms contracts with Russia amounted to $687 million.[9][10] Dmitri Trenin reports in the New York Times that from 2000 to 2010 Russia sold around $1.5 billion worth of arms to Syria, making Damascus Moscow’s seventh-largest client.[11]

Syria hosted Russia's "Center C" signals intelligence base near the Syrian-Israeli-Jordanian border until 2014 and is suspected of hosting at least two other Russian intelligence bases.[12]

Economic relations[edit]

Russia has significant trade relations with Syria. Its exports to Syria were worth $1.1 billion in 2010 and its investments in the country were valued at $19.4 billion in 2009 according to The Moscow Times.[13][14] Besides lucrative arms contracts worth at least $4 billion, Russian firms have a substantial presence in Syria's infrastructure, energy and tourism industries.[9] Stroitransgaz, a natural gas facility construction company, has the largest Russian operation in Syria. In 2010, it was involved in projects worth $1.1 billion and had a staff of 80 Russians working in Syria. Stroitransgaz is building a natural gas processing plant 200 kilometers east of Homs in the Al-Raqqa region and is involved in technical support for the construction of the Arab Gas Pipeline. Tatneft is the most significant Russian energy firm in Syria. The company began in 2010 through a joint venture with the Syrian national oil company to pump Syrian oil and it planned to spend $12 million on exploratory wells near the Iraqi border.[13] Other firms with large business interests in Syria include steel pipe manufacturer TMK, gas producer ITERA, and national carrier Aeroflot.[9]

Political relations[edit]

Russia was one of three countries to vote against a formal UN Security Council condemnation of the Bashar al-Assad government for alleged attacks on civilians in the city of Homs in February 2012. It also opposed any sanctions or intervention against the government.[11] Russia's association with the ruling Assad family go back four decades.[11] Recently though, Russian politicians have begun to acknowledge Bashar's potential downfall, saying "An opposition victory can't be excluded, unfortunately, but it's necessary to look at the facts: There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Moscow's Middle East envoy, said during hearings at a Kremlin advisory body.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russia clings on to last outpost in West Asia| Pionner| 3 February 2012
  2. ^ contribution to ‘What Should the United States Do About Syria?: A TNR Symposium.’| Daniel W. Drezner|| 9 February 2012
  3. ^ Why Russia is willing to sell arms to Syria By Fred Weir|| 19 January 2012
  4. ^ Historical Background and the Present State of the Russian-Syrian Relations
  5. ^ Weitz, Richard (2010). Global security watch--Russia : a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger Security International. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-313-35434-2. 
  6. ^ "Big Russian flotilla led by Admiral Kuznetsov carrier heads for Syrian port". DEBKAfile. August 21, 2008. Retrieved August 22, 2008. [dead link]
  7. ^ "INSS: Syria Report" (PDF). Institute for National Security Studies. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  8. ^ Russia defends arms sales to Syria -
  9. ^ a b c Amos, Howard (26 August 2011). "News Analysis: Russia Damages Image in Arab Spring". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  10. ^ "SIPRI Arms Transfers Database". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Trenins, Dmitri (9 February 2012). "Why Russia Supports Assad". New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2012. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Amos, Howard (2 September 2011). "Billions of Dollars of Russian Business Suffers Along With Syria". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  14. ^ "Syria: EU Bilateral Trade and Trade with the World" (PDF). European Commission. Retrieved 18 September 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Allison, Roy (2013). "Russia and Syria: Explaining Alignment with a Regime in Crisis". International Affairs 89 (4): 795–823. doi:10.1111/1468-2346.12046. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic missions