There is much more to the new Russian presence in the Middle East than meets the eye. Yes, the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation has had a critical naval base at Tartus in Syria since the 1970s. It is the Russian anchor in the Mediterranean. It is for this reason that Russia will never allow the Assad regime to fail. There may be a new leader installed at the top but the Shia regime will not be allowed to go the way of Egypt or Libya.
With the arrival of the new Russian expeditionary force into Syria, Russia has pushed to develop more basing options in the war-torn country. In addition to the new air base at Latakia, where the bulk of Russian forces are currently stationed, Russia has developed other forward operating bases in the east, closer to the front lines of the Syrian civil war. From here, logistically, it is easier to target anti-Assad forces as well as the Islamic State. Since the downing of the Russian SU-24 fighter jet by Turkish F-16s in contested airspace, Russia has moved sophisticated air defense systems, such as the highly capable and long-range S-400, into the Syrian theater, posing a problem for Western air assets.
But these developments, as consequential as they are, are not the real story in the Middle East regarding Russian intervention. The real story is the new axis between Russia, Iran, and Syria that will be a hegemon in the region for decades to come. If you were an alien suddenly deposited in the Fertile Crescent, you would be hard pressed to believe that the United States had spent literally trillions of dollars and shed the blood of thousands of soldiers who died fighting a decade long war in Iraq. For after the Obama administration’s pathetic withdrawal of all American forces from the region, America has abdicated leadership in Iraq and the surrounding area, causing the mother of all power vacuums which Russia and Iran are only too glad to fill. In fact, they must be giddy with their newfound fortunes due to Obama’s weakness.
Iran, due to the poorly negotiated nuclear deal, is about to come into hundreds of billions of dollars which they will not spend on social services for the Iranian people. On the contrary, Russia is only too happy to sell Iran truck loads of sophisticated weapons systems. These will include air defense networks, armor, and nuclear installations. The Russian Iranian axis will grow in power and lethality as Iran becomes a nuclear power in a short period of years per the Obama administration’s nuclear ‘deal.’
This new axis will not only be able to wield its influence at will in the region but will also be able to keep American influence out of the Middle East as far as they eye can see. The best evidence of this fact is the sight of Iranian and Russian military planners operating in American built command posts in Iraq.
This will be the pathetic foreign policy legacy of the Obama presidency.