Vladimir Putin (Photo from 02varvara.wordpress.com)
Russian and Syrian media are at pains denying a Moscow-datelined news report carried late Monday by Russia’s Interfax news agency titled “Russian Black Sea Fleet sailors on mission off Syria.”
The report read verbatim:
The Russian Black Sea Fleet's Iman tanker with an anti-terrorist squad aboard is on a mission off Syria, and the Russian Equator reconnaissance ship is operating in the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea Fleet Staff told Interfax-AVN on Monday.
"The Iman medium seagoing tanker has successfully sailed from Sevastopol to the Syrian cost. It is staying at the Tartous port to perform its mission. Marines make up the anti-terrorist squad based on the tanker," the Staff said.
"The Equator special-purpose ship is also performing a Mediterranean mission. Over the past 45 days, the Black Sea Fleet Equator reconnaissance ship has covered the distance of several thousands miles in the rough seas while accomplishing its tasks," the Staff said.
The Iman "replaced the Ivan Bubnov large seagoing tanker, which had been sent to Syria for demonstrating the Russian presence in the turbulent region and possible evaluation of Russian citizens," the Staff said. The Ivan Bubnov was also anchored in the Tartous port.
Three leading figures in the Arab media today dismiss the spin subsequently put on the news by Moscow and Damascus.
They are: Tariq Alhomayed, editor in chief of Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, managing director of Alarabiya TV network, and Ghassan al-Imam, a veteran Syrian writer and journalist based in Paris.
According to Imam, “After an extended absence of 20 years, Russia is making a great Middle East comeback. Whether Tsar (Vladimir) Putin reaches Damascus on Iran’s magic carpet, aboard a Russian fleet or atop Howitzers that pounded Baba Amr, Idlib and Deraa, he is trying to fill the vacuum created by (Barack) Obama’s retreat.
“Putin skillfully improvised a new Russian chess game blending contrasting interests of several countries. The game is free of ideology. It features Tsar Putin, (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei in the rank of Shah and (Imam) Khomeini, plus a Syrian pawn complemented by pawns in Lebanon and Gaza.
“With this odd mix of actors and supporting actors, the Russian director wants a (Syria) settlement passed that would leave America out in the cold and the Arab pawns under Iran’s thumb. The Tsar would retain his clout and momentum in a vital region sitting at his doorstep. The turbaned Shah signed on to the Russian production bonding Russian and Iranians interests in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab region.”
Alhomayed ridicules the unconvincing Russian denials. One such denial said the Iman was carrying fuel and food supplies for the Russian Black Sea and Northern fleets “that are engaged in anti-piracy patrols in the gulf of Aden.” This followed the original claim made in the Interfax report, which talked of “the “possible evacuation of Russian citizens” by sea from Syria.
Rashed in turns notes Moscow never before backed an Arab regime so staunchly, “except Nasser’s (Egyptian) regime after its (1967) defeat by Israel.”
He says Russia’s political and military muscle plus cash from “Iran and Iraq” will prolong the Syrian regime’s time and the Syrian people’s sufferings. “Nevertheless, the Syrian regime is bound to fall in the end.”