Gordonua.com reports on statements made by former Colonel general Leonid Ivashov, of the Russian Federation. Ivashov appeared on the television progam, “Evening with Vladimir Soloviev” (Вечер с Владимиром Соловьевым), on the Russian state channel, Russia-1.
Colonel general Leonid Ivashov (Леонид Ивашов), President of The Academy on Geopolitical Affairs, has stated that if Russia had not supported [Syria’s President,] Bashar al-Assad, the budget of the Russian Federation would have been critically weakened by the delivery of gas from Qatar to Europe.
“If Russia had not gone [to Syria], and had not supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad, then by now, the question of the survival of the Russia’s federal budget would have been very acute. There are three competing gas pipelines there. In Qatar, the largest gas reserves in the world were discovered: 50 billion tons of condensate.”
Ivashov, who was also Chief of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation (1996-2001) and is a professor of international journalism at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, seems to be referring to the South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, which is “shared by Iran and Qatar, and is the world’s largest gas field, with an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet (51 trillion cubic meters) of natural gas and some 50 billion barrels (7.9 billion cubic meters) of natural gas condensates.”
In addition to Ivashov’s Soviet and Russian government credentials, he appears to have been a contributor to Kremlin-linked neo-fascist philosopher Alexander Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics. Ivashov’s links to Russian ultranationalist organizations are extensive: for example, he writes for the Zavtra paper (a rallying point for Russians who engaged in the invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, such as Alexander Borodai, and Igor Strelkov), and is a member of the expert council for the Union of Russian People (Союз русского народа), “a modern monarchist organization, created in 2005, and founded on the ideology of the pre-Revolutionary Union of the Russian People.” The original Union of Russian People, “founded in October 1905, [aimed] to rally the people behind ‘Great Russian nationalism’ and the autocracy, espousing anti-socialist, anti-liberal, and above all antisemitic views.”
In the words of the general, competitors from Iran and Russia wanted to prevent the laying of Qatari gas pipeline through the territory of Syria, which would have sharply reduced their share of the gas market.
“The first pipeline route which they lay, is into Europe. And layed through the territory of Syria and Turkey, where Turkey would have become the gas supply operator. But for this, it’s necessary to squeeze out Russia.”
The premise that Russia’s support for the Assad regime stems in part from a desire to maintain Russia’s share of the European gas market is not novel. Mitchell Orenstein and George Romer wrote in Foreign Affairs that:
most of the foreign belligerents in the war in Syria are gas-exporting countries with interests in one of the two competing pipeline projects that seek to cross Syrian territory to deliver either Qatari or Iranian gas to Europe. In short, as Iran emerges from international sanctions and its massive gas reserves become available for export, Syria’s gas war is heating up.
Elaborating on the dynamic produced by the discovery, in 1989, of gas in the South Pars/North Dome, field, Orenstein and Romer write:
Since the discovery, Qatar has invested heavily in liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and terminals that enable it to ship its gas around the world in tankers. Yet liquefaction and shipping increase total costs and, particularly as gas prices have slipped, Qatari gas has remained easily undercut in European markets by cheaper pipeline gas from Russia and elsewhere. And so, in 2009, Qatar proposed to build a pipeline to send its gas northwest via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria to Turkey, an investment of billions of dollars up front that would reduce transportation costs over the long term. However, Syrian President Bashar al Assad refused to sign the plan; Russia, which did not want to see its position in European gas markets undermined, put him under intense pressure not to.
At the same time, Iran, sensing an opportunity, and lacking export infrastructure for its own massive gas reserves, proposed an alternative Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would pump Iranian gas from the same field out via Syrian ports such as Latakia and under the Mediterranean. Moscow apparently blessed this project, possibly believing that Russia would have an easier time dealing with Iran (unlike Qatar, not home to a U.S. base) to control gas imports to Europe from Iran, the Caspian Sea region, and Central Asia. The announcement of the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline deal came in 2011. The parties signed the documents in July 2012. Construction was slated to be finished in 2016, but the Arab Spring and ensuing chaos in Syria interfered.
In summary, Orenstein and Romer write:
The Russian intervention adds a new layer. Russia would rather see the Iran–Iraq–Syria pipeline built or no pipeline at all, so that it can best control gas supplies to Europe, its main market. For Qatar, Syria represents an opportunity to transport its gas to market cheaply or block Iran from dominating pipeline exports from a jointly-owned field. The United States, meanwhile, supports the Qatari pipeline as a way to balance Iran and diversify Europe’s gas supplies away from Russia. And Turkey, likewise, believes that the Qatari pipeline would help it diversify its own gas supplies away from Russian energy and further its ambitions to be a gas transit hub between Asia and Europe.
Though the notion that Russia may be engaged in the war in Syria principally to protect its energy interests has been previously considered, it is relatively rare for someone of Ivashov’s status and with his high-level Russian government connections, to make such frank statements about Russia’s cynical motivations for military actions in Syria.
Russia’s official reasons for their military involvement in Syria include the desire to prop up the Assad regime, which was a client of the Soviet Union, and subsequently Russia, since around the time that Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, seized power in a coup, in 1970. Furthermore, Russia has maintained the ruse that it is targeting ISIS in Syria, contrary to evidence which suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russia’s military actions in Syria target civilians, civilian structures, and anti-Assad rebels. It is also known that Russia’s intelligence services are playing a role in bolstering ISIS’ ranks by exporting Russian jihadists to Syria.