Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2186

Russia in the Middle East: there to stay;
Belated recognition for Jewish veterans

February 2, 2018

December 27:

Capitalizing on its military gains in Syria, Russia is now planning for a long-term naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to China's Xinhua news agency, Russian officials have announced that they intend to "permanently" deploy a naval unit to the Middle East, and to preserve this presence after the end of the Syrian civil war. "We will not withdraw... Our group of vessels is permanently operating in the Mediterranean now," Xinhua cites Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov as saying.

Just how big is Russia's military presence in Syria? The actual number of Russian servicemen to serve on the Syrian front has long been a closely-guarded secret of Russia's Defense Ministry. But no longer, it seems.
According to Syrian news agency Al-Masdar al-Arabi, the Ministry has disclosed that nearly 50,000 armed forces personnel have been deployed to the Middle East in the support of the Assad regime since the start of Russia's military intervention there in September 2015.

December 29:

Russia's president has signed into law an agreement for long-term basing in Syria.
Sputnik reports that President Putin has formally ratified the pact, inked by Russian and Syrian officials back in January, thereby paving the way for the expansion of Russia's naval base at Tartus, and extending Moscow's control over the facility for a period of 49 years.

The deal marks a major expansion of Russia's freedom of action in Syria. "According to the agreement, Russia may simultaneously deploy up to 11 warships, including nuclear-powered combat vessels, at the Tartus naval facility," Sputnik lays out. Additionally, "Russia will be able to deploy temporary mobile outposts beyond the base, if coordinated with the Syrian side."

Russia's high hopes for a reset in relations with the U.S. under the Trump administration have been dashed over the past year, according to a top Kremlin official. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's official spokesman, has told reporters that the current, frayed state of ties between Moscow and Washington "may well be" one of the Russian government's biggest disappointments of 2017. Over the past year, relations between the two countries have continued to suffer as a result of Russia's ongoing foreign adventurism, with U.S. officials terming it a "resurgent" country that has "invaded its neighbors." However Russia's government, Peskov maintained in comments
carried by The Moscow Times, nonetheless remains open to the possibility of greater cooperation with the United States.

December 30:

Russia has been providing oil to North Korea in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, a new expose has charged. The analysis, conducted by the Reuters news agency, lays out that Russian ships "allegedly transferred oil products to North Korean vessels out at sea on several occasions" in contravention of UN restrictions on the DPRK's importation of oil and natural gas.
According to Fox News, the Kremlin has dismissed the allegations as baseless, with Russia's Foreign Ministry insisting that it "fully and strictly observed the sanctions regime" now being leveled against the regime of Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

January 1, 2018:

In an effort to curry favor with Israel's large Russian community, Vladimir Putin has extended lifetime benefits to World War II Russian veterans living in the country.
Itar-TASS reports that, as part of the outreach, the Kremlin will henceforth pay a monthly stipend of some 1,000 rubles apiece to most of the 10,000 veterans of the "Great Patriotic War" now living in Israel. An additional 500 will be provided monthly to those veterans that fall under certain defined categories, such as those "who hold the title of 'Citizen of Besieged Leningrad,' widows and widowers of servicemen who died during the war with Finland, the Great Patriotic War, the war with Japan and former adult prisoners of concentration camps."

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The measure, while a welcome recognition of the contributions of Jewish soldiers to the defense of the Motherland between 1941 and 1945, should be understood to be largely symbolic. At today's exchange rate, an average veteran's monthly stipend from the Kremlin under the new ordinance will amount to less than $18.]

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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