Russia–Syria relations refers to the bilateral relationship between Russia and Syria. Russia has an embassy in Damascus and 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. Russia's only Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea Fleet is located in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Syria were established in July 1944, and an agreement was signed in February 1946 ensuring Soviet support for Syrian independence ahead of the evacuation of French troops in April 1946. During World War II, both countries were in the Allied side against the Axis powers.
In 1971, under an agreement with President Hafez al-Assad, the Soviet Union was allowed to open its naval military base in Tartus, a facility the former Soviet republic continues to use to this day. On 8 October 1980, Syria and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty runs for twenty years and has automatic five-year extensions, unless one of the parties terminates the agreement. It provides for regular consultations on bilateral and multilateral issues of interest, coordination of responses in the event of a crisis, and military cooperation. The treaty remains in force to this day. In January 1992, the Syrian government recognized the Russian Federation as the legal successor to the Soviet Union.
Russia in 2011 and 2012 used its veto-power in the United Nations Security Council against resolutions promoted by Western and Arab countries, to prevent possible sanctions or military intervention against the Syrian government, and Russia continued supplying large amounts of arms that Syria's government had earlier contracted to buy and which were used to fight Western-backed rebels. On 30 September 2015, Russia began a military intervention in the Syrian Civil War in support of the al-Assad government, consisting of air strikes against terrorist groups, e.g.: ISIS .
In 1893, the Russian Empire established a consular office in Damascus, then a part of Ottoman Syria. Following the October Revolution (1917), and the creation of the Soviet Union (1922), the Russian presence in Syria came to an end, which continued during the French Mandate period (1923−1946). Although the Soviet Union did not play a political role in the region, it did promote the establishment of the Syrian–Lebanese Communist Party in 1924.
Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Syria were established in July 1944. The Soviet Union commenced to again take an interest in the Middle East after the Second World War. The two countries signed a secret agreement on 1 February 1946, with Soviet minister to Syria and Lebanon Daniel Solod as signatory for the USSR, in which the Soviet Union agreed to provide military help in the formation of the Syrian Arab Army and prescribed Soviet diplomatic and political support in the international arena. The Soviet Union demonstrated its commitment to this treaty with Andrey Vyshinsky's 15 February 1946 address to the United Nations Security Council calling for the removal of British and French troops from the country. The last French troops were removed from Syria on 17 April 1946. During the Cold War (1947–1991) a stronger political bond developed, and Syria was considered an ally to the Soviet Union in opposition to the Western powers.
In 1949, after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Syria experienced a number of military coups and the rise of the Ba'ath Party. Three coups d'état occurred by 1953, ushering in military dictatorships twice in the process. A non-aggression pact was signed on 10 April 1950 further cemented Soviet–Syrian ties. During the Cold War period, each conflict and war that broke out in the Middle East acted as a factor leading Syria to form closer ties with the Soviet Union. Following the military coup d’état of 25 February 1954, the Ba'ath Party came to the fore in Syrian politics.
The West-inspired Baghdad Pact (1955), with its ultimately unsuccessful formation of the Central Treaty Organization, brought Soviet-Syria relations closer diplomatically. Syrians however perceived this agreement as a pact against themselves. Indeed, among the consequences of the Baghdad Pact was not only a deepening of Syrian relations with the Soviet Union but also an alignment of Middle Eastern countries into allied satellites of the Eastern and Western blocs.
The response of the Soviet Union to the Suez Crisis (late October 1956) increased Soviet prestige in the Middle East. Soviet aid to Syria accelerated and included military and economic agreements. Between 1955 and 1958, Syria received about $294 million from the Soviet Union for military and economic assistance. Simultaneously, the Ba'ath Party in Syria increased its power and influence.
The Syrian coup d'état of February 1966 gave the Soviet Union the opportunity to further support Syria. A new coup d’état in 1970, called the Corrective Movement, brought Hafez Assad to power in Syria on 13 November 1970.
In 1971, under an agreement with President Hafez al-Assad, the Soviet Union was allowed to open its naval military base in Tartus, giving the Soviet Union a stable presence in the Middle East. Thousands of Syrian military officers and educated professionals studied in Russia during al-Assad's presidency (1971–2000).
In April 1977, Hafez al-Assad visited Moscow and met with Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin among others, as a sign of improved Syrian relations with the USSR. In October 1980, Syria and the Soviet Union signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.
Hafez al-Assad died on 10 June 2000 and was succeeded on 10 July 2000 by his son Bashar al-Assad, who was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote.
Since the Syrian Civil War (2011–present)Edit
During the Syrian Civil War which began in 2011, Russia with China in February 2012 voted against a formal UN Security Council condemnation of the Bashar al-Assad government for alleged attacks on civilians in the city of Homs. In 2018, Russia announced free military education for Syrian kids chosen on merit. The first batch of 8 Syrian kids reached St. Peters burg in August.
The Russian naval facility in Tartus, Syria, was established during the Cold War under a 1971 agreement with Syria. It is Russia's only naval facility in the Mediterranean region and the only remaining military facility outside the former Soviet Union.
After Russia forgave Syria 73%, or $9.6 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt in 2005 and became its main arms supplier, Russia and Syria at the end of the 2000s conducted talks about allowing Russia to upgrade and expand the facility at Tartus. 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.
Since 2009, Russia has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.
On 18 January 2017, Russia and Syria signed an agreement, effective forthwith, whereunder Russia would be allowed to expand and use the naval facility at Tartus for 49 years on a free-of-charge basis and enjoy sovereign jurisdiction over the base. The treaty allows Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels; it stipulates privileges and full immunity from Syria's jurisdiction for Russia's personnel and materiel at the facility. The treaty was ratified and approved by Russian parliament, and the relevant federal law was signed by president Vladimir Putin by the end of December 2017.
Russian air base in PalmyraEdit
Russian weapons salesEdit
See under section Economic relations ; Arms sales.
Secret Russian spy basesEdit
The journal Jane's Defence Weekly in 2006 assumed two secret, joint, Russian–Syrian signals intelligence ‘spy’ posts to exist within Syria. The biggest Russian electronic ‘eavesdropping post’ outside Russian territory was in 2012 established in Latakia.
Another signals intelligence base, "Center S" ("Центр С" in Cyrillic script), jointly operated by the Russian OSNAZ GRU radio electronic intelligence agency and a Syrian intelligence agency, situated near Al-Harra in Syria close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, was on 5 October 2014 captured by Free Syrian Army rebels during the Daraa offensive (October 2014).
Syria’s air defence with Russian equipmentEdit
After the 2007 Israeli Operation Orchard airstrikes on an alleged nuclear reactor at al-Kibar in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, and again after the March 2011 Syrian protests, Syria's air defences have been bolstered with Russian upgrades—which the Russians have repeatedly denied. According to Western experts, the Russians delivered Buk-M2 and Pantsir-S1 (also known as SA-22) mobile missile launch and radar systems. While the Syrians were not capable of using such equipment to its full capacity, the Russians also helped man the crews and train the crews. As of late 2012, Syria's air-defence command force comprised thousands of anti-aircraft guns, 130 anti-aircraft missile batteries, and an estimated 50,000 troops, and was qualified by the Guardian as "robust".
2015 Russian military interventionEdit
On 30 September 2015, Russia began a military intervention in the Syrian Civil War in support of Bashar al-Assad's government, consisting of air strikes against Syrians that oppose the government. In addition, ISIS and Assad's Regime fight against opposition groups (FSA). With Vladimir Putin's support, Assad's troops are fighting Free Syrian Army all throughout the country. Expressing Russian, Iranian, and Syrian support for each other, the Chairman of the Iranian parliament's, (aka Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis) National Security and Foreign Policy Committee — Heshmat-Allah Falahat Pishe — stated during an interviewed on Russia Today TV on February 1, 2019: "Russian, Iranian, and Syrian soldiers shed their blood together in Syria. ... I do now know why the Russians hesitate to say that our relationship is strategic. We have fought together and Russia is under American sanctions, just like us. In order to deal with that, we expect more cooperation from the Russian side."
In May 2019, The Moscow Times reported that "Fifty-five percent of Russian respondents say their country should end its military campaign in Syria, up from 49 percent in August 2017, according to a poll published by Levada".
Russia has significant economic interests in Syria. Its investments in the country were valued at $19.4 billion in 2009, according to The Moscow Times, and its exports to Syria were worth $1.1 billion in 2010.
The Soviet Union’s military sales to Syria in the 1970s and 80's accounted for 90% of all Syrian military arms imports, according to a United States Congressional Research Service Report released in 2008. The report noted that Syria purchased several billions of dollars' worth of military equipment from the Soviets, including SS-21 "Scarab" short-range missiles (range 70 km).
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Syria found itself deprived of arms imports, but continued to seek them through former Soviet satellite states. The establishment of the Russian Federation in 1992 saw the re-introduction of the patron-vendor relationship and the cancellation of almost 73% of Syria's debt. According to reports, 2.4% of Russia's total exports come from defense-related sales.
In 2008, Syria agreed to purchase modern weapons including modern anti-tank and anti-air missile systems from Russia, including MiG-29SMT fighters, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems, Iskander tactical missile systems, Yak-130 aircraft, and two Amur-1650 submarines. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov 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, Lavrov told reporters.
Syria's arms contracts with Russia in 2011 and 2012 amounted to $687 million, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). But according to The Moscow Times, Russia and Syria had in 2011 well over $4 billion in active arms contracts.
Other economic sectorsEdit
Russian firms in 2011 had a substantial presence in Syria's infrastructure, energy and tourism industries. 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 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. Other firms with large business interests in Syria include steel pipe manufacturer TMK, gas producer ITERA, and national carrier Aeroflot.
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- Diplomatic missions
- (in Arabic) (in English) (in Russian) Embassy of Russia in Damascus