Russia’s aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” and its supporting flotilla docked in the strategic Russian logistics port of Tartus, Syria. The Kuznetsov’s visit to Tartus, although planned some time ago, has sent a clear message to a country, and a region, that is in turmoil. That message is that Russia stands with the Assad regime while it is inflicting incredibly brutal violence against its own people. All this is coming at a time when some are calling for a NATO intervention in Syria, similar to the recent operations in Libya, although most who are educated on the subject know clear and well that a NATO catalyzed regime change in Syria poses much greater challenges than those seen in Gaddafi’s Libya.
So why does this raise the stakes concerning US-Russian relations in context of the Arab Spring and the region at large? Simple, world powers are choosing sides, this ups the stakes. With Russia going as far as conducting a port visit and diplomatic photo-op while the Assad regime continues to crack down on its own people it makes it very clear that Russia could really care less about human rights in the region and that they want the Assad regime to continue to keep its strangle hold over the Syrian populous, as this would mean that trade will continue between the two countries and that Russia can keep its ultra-strategic Mediterranean port in Tartus. By taking such a stand it also puts Russia in a position where they have an even higher vested interest in Bashar Al Assad’s government than ever before, as the opposition in that country will surely hold such support against Russia if indeed they are successful with overthrowing the Assad Regime. In other words, the Russians can most likely kiss their trade deals and precious port goodbye if Assad goes the way of Gaddafi and Mubarak.
If this sort of direct choosing of sides becomes a more common norm in the region, and goes as far as deploying naval forces to the area at issue, which is really in opposition to the US, things could get even more complicated than they already are. This is especially true concerning Iran vis-a-vis China and Russia. Further, it seems that Russia is continuing to flex its slowly growing muscles in direct opposition to the US, which is a bit unsettling to some to say the least.
One thing is certain, this is a very dynamic and chaotic time in the history or Geopolitics and foreign policy. After almost a decade of conflicts in the sand it seems like the world’s waterways and the military vessels that sail on them are once again becoming the place where oral diplomacy ends, and hard lines begin.