Posts Tagged ‘navy’

The Assad regime has been far from delicate in it’s handling of the protests but when it employs gunboats to subdue the unrest you know that things have taken a turn for the worse. Navy ships started shelling the port city on Sunday in coordination with an attack by tanks, soldiers and paramilitary troops.

This is a worrying escalation of violence, especially as Syrians and foreign observers had hoped that the recent international pressure, including a visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister and ambassador recalls by several Gulf states, would at the very least bring a temporary respite from the government violence.

The assault came after large-scale protests in the city on Friday and followed the same less-than-subtle pattern as previous attacks on dissenting populations: deployment of tanks, cutting of water and electricity, all followed by sweeping arrests and random gunfire.

Unsurprisingly, SANA has denied that Navy ships were used in the attack: “The [SANA] Correspondent refuted some satellite channels’ claims of bombarding the mentioned neighbourhood from the sea, indicating that what is really taking place is a pursuit of gunmen”.

I’m guessing that this latest round of violence will leave many diplomats and foreign politicians wondering what to do next. The recent visit from the Turkish Foreign Minister and the emergence of a loose anti-Assad bloc in the region has so far done little to deter the regime from its violent rampage across Syria.

Smoke rising from Latakia on Sunday

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The Russian factor

Along with the usual Syrian flags and posters of a stern looking Bashar al Assad, the shops selling patriotic paraphernalia across Damascus have more recently added another item to their stock: the red, blue and white of the Russian flag. Since it vetoed a United Nations motion to condemn the regime crackdown in Syria, Russia has become the pro-government supporters’ favourite foreign backer. A close look at the pictures of a pro-regime mob attacking the US embassy, angry at the ambassador’s recent trip to the besieged city of Hama, reveals a Russian banner held aloft by one of the would-be embassy invaders.

The Russian-Syrian alliance is by no means new and was forged during the Soviet period on the back of socialist ideals and a mutual desire to antagonise the West. Military interests have kept the two countries cosy since then. Since 1971 Russia has leased port facilities in Tartous for its navy. These were falling into disrepair until 2008, and the South Ossetia War, when Russia decided that it wanted to revamp its naval capabilities in the Mediterranean. There have also been negotiations over deploying Russian Iskander missiles in the country.

The Russian Cultural Centre, down the road from the Syrian Central Bank, is looking a bit tatty around the edges these days but still remains active as a instrument of soft power, encouraging young Syrians to learn Russian and develop life-long bonds with Russian culture.

Cultural exchanges are fine but as the government response to the uprising becomes increasingly bloody, Russia is not doing its international image any good by stubbornly backing a regime which, in this blogger’s humble opinion, will not be around in the long-term.

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