While there are many consequences of a regime change in Syria, for Syrians as well as the other countries and people in the Middle East, it is vital that readers also be aware of the geopolitical challenges being mounted in the region.
Unlike the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (I will not discuss the so far unsuccessful ones in Bahrain, Oman and Yemen), the revolution and civil war in Syria has vital geostrategic and geopolitical import for the major global powers -- the US, the EU and NATO -- and their major challengers Russia, China and Iran.
The first two of the latter group are determined that Syria’s fate will not be the same as that of Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. Syria is the most important country in the Middle East for the desired projection of geostrategic power by Russia and China onto the eastern Mediterranean. It allows China to demonstrate that it is a major power not only in East Asia but in Southwest Asia. Furthermore, it allows Beijing to demonstrate its support of Iran’s projection of power onto Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Iran also imports more weapons systems from China than any other country in the world, providing Beijing with a potentially strong presence in the Persian Gulf region.
Russia also wants to demonstrate that it will not easily tolerate its marginalization by the UN, the US, the EU and NATO -- a result of NATO’s war against the Khadafy regime. Moscow also has geostrategic interests in Syria. Russia’s large naval base at Tartus is its only naval base in the Mediterranean and is vital for its naval and submarine activities in the Mediterranean Sea. This naval base has become even more vital with the discovery of gas and oil off the coast of Israel. It is estimated that these reserves could make Israel one of the top ten gas producing countries in the world within ten years. More gas and oil fields have been discovered on Cyprus and Turkey has begun drilling on its southern coast. Moscow would like a stable and permanent base from which to monitor these emerging energy sources.
Russia also wants to send a strong message to the US and NATO that it is extremely unhappy with NATO’s decision, driven by the US, to build a ballistic and nuclear armed missile shield in eastern European countries directed at Russian sites. In addition, Moscow is concerned that the demise of the al-Assad regime will further strengthen Turkey’s position in the eastern Mediterranean especially in Syria, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians, making Turkey, along with Israel, the two strongest countries in the eastern Mediterranean. Moscow is concerned that if the above scenario occurs, Turkey would be in a better position to challenge Russia more strongly in the Caucasus, long dominated by Russia especially in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Ankara might potentially support an Azerbaijani military attack on Armenia to regain approximately 20 percent of territory that it lost to Armenia in wars in the ‘90s. Azerbaijan, flush with billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue, is primed for war against Armenia which is allied with Russia -- the traditional protector of Christians against warring Muslims. Azerbaijan and Turkey are two Turkic countries are closely connected by the motto, “Two nations but one people.” Thus, in terms of global geostrategic interests, Syria is as vital for Moscow as the other Caucasus countries. It should also be noted that Iran, although a country in which a Muslim clergy provides much of the leadership, is a strong supporter of Armenia, unlike Turkey, who the West charges with committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915.
In addition, if the al-Assad regime were to fall in the next six months, which seems likely, and the Syrian opposition continues to receive support from the “Friends of Syria,” who are also the enemies of Iran, the situation has a possibility of creating more challenges to the US, the EU and NATO from Russia and China who also oppose current UN, US, EU and NATO policies towards Iran.
*Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky.