Russian military bases in Syria: Ukraine crisis and the Iran nuclear deal

After the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, many questions arose about: the extent of the impact of that war on relations between Moscow and the Middle East, specifically “Iran, Israel, and the Persian Gulf”, with regard to the developments of the Iranian nuclear file, and the appropriateness of the current Russian position in the matter.  Confronting the American and Western policies of their bargaining over the Iranian nuclear file in exchange for making concessions in favor of Russia regarding its ongoing war with Ukraine, and even wondering, about: (the extent of its impact on Russia’s relations with those Iranian militias in Syria and Hezbollah on the southern border of Lebanon, and then the Israeli presence  In the Syrian Golan Heights, and the impact of the strong Russian presence in Syria on the security of Tel Aviv itself as a close partner of the United States of America, Moscow’s archenemy in its conflict with Ukraine).

  On the academic and analytical level, the Egyptian researcher was greatly interested in analyzing the impact of the presence of (the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in the southeast of the Syrian city of Latakia, near the Russian naval base in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus), near to the (Lebanese, Iranian, and Israeli) borders, on the file of negotiating the current Russian crisis with Ukraine, then the extent of the (possibility of Russian bargaining in the face of the United States of America and its allies in the West over the negotiation of the Iranian nuclear file).

  In sum, the Egyptian researcher was able to monitor and analyze the positions of the following countries and parties on the Ukrainian crisis with Russia, the extent of its impact on the Middle East and its countries, the path of negotiation with the Iranian side to make any progress in those talks taking place in Vienna, and the extent to which Russia can influence Iran and all regional parties interlocking with it, (in view of the proximity of the Russian air base and its two naval bases in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus) on the borders of Israel, Iran and Lebanon, as follows:

  The real question since the beginning of the Russian military operation in Ukraine has been about: (the extent of the influence of the stable and powerful Russian presence in Syria near the Lebanese, Iranian and Israeli borders on the Middle East in general, and on the possibility of expressing and passing some pressures or concessions by Russia with any  One of the parties to this intertwined crisis over the nuclear negotiations with Tehran), in exchange for the other parties making concessions to the Russian side when the negotiating process began after the Russian war against Ukraine will over and the impact of all this on the regional countries of the Middle East, such as Israel, Iran, and the Arab Gulf states, especially with the Russian air base sharing some landing paths at (Basel al-Assad International Airport), although it is limited to only Russian workers, according to an agreement between Russia and the Syrian president.  Bashar al-Assad.  Which allows Russia to find a foothold in (confronting the Iranian presence in Syria and the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, up to the extent of Russia’s ability to exert pressure on Israel as an ally of Washington and neutralize it regarding the Russian crisis with Ukraine).

  The importance of this small Russian air base in Syria, given its proximity to other Russian and Chinese naval bases in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus on the Mediterranean, facing the Israeli ports of “Haifa and Ashdod” on the Mediterranean. The agreement was signed between Russia and Syrian President “Bashar al-Assad” in August 2015, (giving the Russian military forces the right to use the Hmeimim base at all times, free of charge and for an indefinite period). Russia has used that air base to carry out several military missions against the Syrian opposition factions. After a year of the Russian presence at the Hmeimim base, Moscow announced its intention to (expand the Hmeimim air base in Syria with the aim of turning it into a fully equipped military air base to support the permanently stable Russian military presence in the region).

  Therefore, the Egyptian researcher’s analysis goes in the direction of the extent to which the Russian military intervention in the Ukrainian depth can contribute to accelerating the revival or slowing down of the Iranian nuclear agreement, given (the Russian proximity to Tehran, Tel Aviv and the Arab Gulf in general through those Russian naval and air bases in Syria), and the possibility of Russian bargaining in the file of economic and financial sanctions imposed on it by the United States and the West because of its movements in Ukraine by creating (continuous Russian pressure and threats on Tel Aviv as a partner of the United States of America and threatening the interests of the Hebrew state in the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel, and even its impact on the Russian role in  The negotiating file with Iran in the face of Gulf interests and the security of Israel itself)?  Then, finally, this question is considered, regarding: the declared Israeli position not to obligate it to any agreement signed by the West, the international community and Washington with Tehran, given the lack of confidence in the Iranian negotiating positions and maneuvers and the complexity of their tracks.

  There are real common fears among the leaders and countries of the “NATO” about (the impact of these Russian air bases, mainly and then the navy in Latakia and Tartus in Syria, on the security of the Middle East and developments in the Iranian nuclear file), which will allow the Russian side the ability to maneuver in it, and even achieve  Pressure on its other regional parties, which will affect Israel’s security in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, especially in light of the Russian war against Ukraine, and the Russian desire to neutralize Israel in Syria and the region. This was confirmed by the Supreme Commander of “NATO” forces in Europe, General “Philip Breedlove”, in September 2018, emphasizing:

  “This kind of Russian military infrastructure in Syria, including Russian anti-aircraft and defense systems, will de facto cause a no-fly zone at the level of that region in Syria with the development of Russian air defense systems in Syria.  A flight ban in the eastern Mediterranean, which will inevitably affect regional and global security”

 The danger of the Russian naval facility or base in the Syrian city of Tartus stems from its view that it is basically a (military facility leased to the Russian Navy on the northern edge of the sea port of the Syrian city of Tartus in the Middle East facing Israel, Iran and the Arabian Gulf, as well as affecting the Middle East region and all its interactions). It is also used for Russian military and strategic purposes and to carry out some naval military maneuvers or joint exercises or to monitor those mainly Western countries that overlook the Mediterranean. A Chinese or a Russian presence in them so as not to (harm the American Sixth Fleet security and its bases on the Mediterranean Sea from the side of Israel).

 Here, the danger of these Russian and Chinese naval bases in Syria appears in influencing the course of the crisis with Ukraine, through an analysis and conceptualization of the military, security and naval scene, which lies in the possibility of the Russian side using the pressure card related to its permanent stationing in the “Syrian Tartus base”, as it is the only thing for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean, which (avoids the Russian warships a trip back to their bases through the Turkish Straits in the Black Sea, which misses or wastes the opportunity for the Western allies in the “NATO” to put pressure on Russia in terms of pressure on Turkey  and its ambitions to strengthen its military role with NATO countries).

  Therefore, the American administration has adopted the (principle of separation of tracks in dealing with Russia), regarding the Ukrainian and Iranian crises, meaning that: Washington does not want to completely exclude Russia from the file of obligating Iran to sign the new nuclear agreement and to make a breakthrough in the Vienna nuclear negotiations, given the Russian close presence to  Tehran and on its borders, through the Russian air and naval bases in Syria, as well as the significance of the (Russian influence on the Iranian militias in Syria, and its ability to pacify or impede and limit its escalation against Israel), allowing Russia a margin of maneuvering and manipulation of Washington by keeping Russia  By threatening to take an escalatory political and economic position against it in the Ukrainian crisis on the one hand and putting pressures on the Israeli front and its other outlets in the Mediterranean on another hand to (place the Russian military facilities which are permanently located and stationed in that area in Tartus and Latakia in Syria).

   As for the relationship between the Ukrainian crisis and the Russian presence in Syria, it lies in the (Syrian agreement provides for Russia’s use of air and sea military bases and facilities in Tartus, Syria, to deliver weapons and supplies by landing ships and cargo ships that cross the straits from the Black Sea port to Syria in the “port of  Russia’s Novorossiysk”, which Russia and the world consider as Syrian highways for Moscow’s interests). Therefore, the fears of the “NATO” countries that Russia may use those air and sea bases in Syria for military purposes and strategic operation against Ukraine.

 On the other hand, and in light of the decision to exclude and expel Russia from the (Swift financial system for bank transfers), this matter may push the Russian side to stop its oil exports, which exceed 11 million barrels per day, in addition to this huge Russian production of natural gas, especially with Russia’s inability at the present time due to the war on Ukraine to recover its financial revenues in hard currencies, and this may make Iran a necessary alternative in order to (compensate for the global shortage in energy sources at the expense of Russian interests themselves), which may push Russia to (prevent transition of any Iranian tankers or shipments to the world), even in the event of lifting sanctions on Tehran, through Russia’s monitoring of developments in the Iranian position and its presence in the Syrian depth.

 Therefore, we understand from the Iranian position, the reasons behind the justification of a number of officials in Iran after the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Russia’s position in confronting Ukraine and the West. The same was confirmed by the statement of the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, “Saeed Khatibzadeh”, given that (Eurasia is facing suspicious American attempts, due to NATO’s moves to annex Ukraine led by the United States of America, which will affect Russia’s security regionally and internationally).

  Here, Washington is trying to (obtain Russian guarantees, in order to exercise its role and pressure on the Iranian side to prevent it from developing its nuclear program by moving to advanced levels, which would disrupt and complicate the negotiating tracks), and may transfer it to various other levels, to the extent that the United States of America is forced to deal with the Iranians from a different perspective, especially in the case of Iran exploiting the Ukrainian crisis to develop uranium enrichment.

  We find here the importance of Russian pressures in the Iranian nuclear file, considering (the Iranian pressure paper is one of the most prominent cards in Russia’s hands before going to the negotiating table with Washington and the international community regarding its current crisis with Ukraine). We analyze this, with the expected Russian bargaining paper to the Russian side to push the progress with Iran in the Vienna nuclear negotiations, and then the impact and results of that on Russian interests with the world, perhaps at the expense of Iranian interests themselves.

  In my new analysis regarding (the impact of Russia’s removal and expulsion from the SWIFT financial system for remittances on its relationship with Iran and the world), especially with the Russian realization, that any progress in the nuclear agreement means lifting and canceling the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, and thus easing the severity of the Russian bargaining chip in confronting the United States of America and its allies in the West, using the Iranian card.

  From the Russian point of view, accelerating a fair agreement with Iran on its nuclear file would (damage and negatively affect all Russian economic, political and negotiating interests globally, by Russia losing the element of the Iranian pressure card in the face of the United States of America and its allies in the West, as well as  about its negative effects on Russia’s economic interests, by opening global markets to Iranian exports in the oil and gas sectors, which negatively affects economic interests and the Russian market).

  Based on the previous analysis, Moscow is well aware that its delay in making any progress in the nuclear agreement with Iran will inevitably achieve Russian interests, with the Russian understanding of the general scene from my analytical and interpretive point of view that (the Russian persistence in disrupting or suspending progress in the Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran). Iran will block the way for Washington and European countries to secure and find or obtain any other alternative sources of energy away from the Russian source, which will lose Moscow a dangerous pressure card when negotiating the crisis of its war with Ukraine, especially if the Russian-Ukrainian crisis develops to more complex levels. L

  Perhaps I will take my analysis of the situation much further, that (the Iranian side may well take advantage of the extent of the Russian preoccupation in its war against Ukraine and the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia, in order to sign a new nuclear agreement in Vienna independently, away from those distant and complex Russian calculations of linking  between the negotiations of the Ukrainian and Iranian nuclear crises), thus weakening the ability of the Russian side to maneuver the Iranian pressure card.

  In line with the previous point in my analysis, maybe (Iran will be able to win in all cases, whether if it accepts to negotiate with the United States of America and the West on its nuclear file independently, away from the Russian mediation in the negotiation), and also from the possibility of Iran exploiting the Russian-Ukrainian crisis on the other hand, taking advantage of the international preoccupation with it, and thus developing its nuclear program by moving to advanced levels in it, which (pushes Washington and the international community to make concessions in favor of Iran).

  In my personal opinion, Iran has become the only party in the crisis of the Russian war against Ukraine, by (enabling the Iranians to play independent negotiating roles, and perhaps Iranian bargaining in the face of Washington and the West to cancel and lift US sanctions on it, and thus the result or that final outcome will be Iran’s transformation into an important international partner in the energy sector and oil and gas supplies instead of Russia), with the full Iranian awareness and understanding of the international and European crisis due to their having to impose economic sanctions on Russia due to the developments of the invasion of Ukraine.

   According to my analysis of the realistic scene of the crisis until this moment, I believe that (the negotiating track with Iran has entered a state of vacuum, crisis and doubt), with the chief Iranian negotiator “Ali Bagheri Kani” announcing his return to Tehran again after failing to reach any agreement in Vienna when discussing the Iranian nuclear file on February 25, 2022.

  Here, we find that the Russian invasion or entry into Ukraine may contribute to shuffling the cards on the negotiating table in Vienna over the Iranian nuclear file, due to (the failure of the American administration’s efforts to keep the line of communication open with Russia regarding efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons).

   There are fundamental concerns that have become farther and broader than the mere achievement and success of the agreement in the Iranian nuclear file due to the repercussions caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war, especially since this Russian invasion of Ukraine may (give Iran the green light to develop a nuclear weapon by taking advantage of the preoccupation of the United States of America and the whole world with managing  That war against Russia).

  As for the Israeli position regarding the progress of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, we note here (the complete Israeli refusal to sign any new nuclear agreement with the Iranian side, and the Israeli government refuses to lift any sanctions on Tehran, especially with the intersection and intertwining of the southern Lebanese borders with the northern region of Israel  Thus, the Israeli fears appear, according to what the Hebrew press announced, about the presence of more than 250,000 Iranian missiles in cooperation with the “Hezbollah movement in southern Lebanon” surrounded by Israel from its southern border with Lebanon), with the existence of explicit Israeli accusations against Iran of its intention to work to destroy Israel, and to target  Security of Tel Aviv, with the Iranians continuing to develop their nuclear program and enrich uranium.  Therefore, the complete Israeli refusal to lift the sanctions against Iran, and even to go further, by refusing to sit with the Iranians to negotiate over its nuclear program in the first place.

   On the other hand, regarding (the same American position from the Israeli point of view regarding refusing to negotiate with Iran), there is an American rejection of the Israeli position, especially with the sensitivity of relations between the United States of America and Israel in this file. As the (Israeli fears are the leadership of the United States of America for the five partner countries in the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, and everyone finally acquiesced to those Iranian demands and blackmails, and all of them accepted to make many concessions to the Iranian side in the nuclear negotiations file), without any guarantees that might be taken against the Iranians, which harms the security of Israel.

  Perhaps this point directly earlier in my analysis is one of the direct reasons for the Israeli rapprochement with Russia in the face of Iran and the Israeli attempt to spoil the shape of relations between Iran and Russia.  Where Israel is trying here to (win the Russian position in its favour, to balance its suspicions in the face of the compromising and flexible US position with the Iranians in the face of Iran from the Israelis’ point of view).

   That last Israeli plan or game after the outbreak of the Ukrainian-Russian war lies in an attempt to (exploit all available opportunities to strain relations between Russia and Iran, and try to push the Russians to adopt a hard stance against Iran in the nuclear negotiations). That is why, in my academic and personal opinion, (the Israeli decision to abstain from voting on the resolution adopted by the United States of America to condemn Russia in the United Nations General Assembly, after its annexation of the Crimea in 2014, which actually caused severe tension and a major crisis in the form of relations at that time in the form of relations  American-Israeli).

  There is already joint Russian-Israeli coordination in several files related to the Middle East, on top of which is the (Syrian file), especially with the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, in addition to the most important thing from my point of view which is the presence of  (the Russian air base in Hmeimim, 15 km from the Syrian port of Latakia). Therefore, Israel is trying to appease many of the Russian positions, in order to preserve Israel’s security from any Iranian threat from the depth of Syrian territory with the help of Hezbollah militias in southern Lebanon to launch attacks on it, in exchange for (coordinating the Israeli-Russian positions, for Israel’s failure to condemn the Russian presence in Syria).

  Here, the pivotal Gulf role will appear with Washington to (make pressures on Iran over its nuclear file, with the urgent need of the United States of America for its allies and partners in the Gulf), and its increasing need for them after the Ukraine crisis, and requesting support for those American efforts to secure the flow of energy supplies from the Gulf markets to the world, given Washington’s anticipation of any retaliatory position by Russia by using energy as a weapon, so it became (the only opportunity available to the Gulf countries is to put pressures on the United States of America and the five countries involved in the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, to ensure that some pressures are being exercised and concessions from Iran in the interest of Arabian Gulf security and freedom of navigation in Bab al-Mandab and the region).

  Thus, we conclude from this comprehensive analysis, the extent of the impact of these Ukrainian-Russian military developments on all developments related to the Iranian nuclear file, in view of the discussion of each regional parties of (Iran, Israel, the Arab Gulf) on its interests in confronting the other party. Here, it should be noted that the (Russian role in the Iranian nuclear file after its crisis with Ukraine didn’t enjoy political consensus in Iran), many Iranian political forces and parties disagree on the Russian role in the file after the outbreak of the Russian war in Ukraine, with other fears of Russian trap. The Iranian nuclear file is in its favour. Rather, the (reformist figures in Iran have strongly criticized this role and called for its marginalization), as a number of decision-making circles in Iran believe that: “Russia is deliberately keeping the tense relationship between Iran and the West and the United States of America after the Ukraine crisis in the first place”, in order to (ensure the survival of Tehran’s nuclear file and giving the opportunity to Iran to join its Russian ally to balance pressures on it over the Ukrainian crisis).

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit