Russians in Syria to protect access to Mediterranean: Ex-Pentagon official

WASHINGTON: Former Pentagon official says the Russians are in Syria to protect the Syrian government and their naval facility in Tartus, which provides Moscow access to the Mediterranean Sea.


Michael Maloof, a former senior security policy analyst at the US Department of Defense, made the remarks in a phone interview with Press TV on Sunday.

He was commenting on a report which says the United States is updating its contingency plans for a potential war with Russia for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The US Defense Department is re-evaluating its Cold War era military plans following increasing tensions between Washington and Moscow over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, the Foreign Policy magazine reported on Friday, citing current and former Pentagon officials.

“The United States always has contingency plans for any eventuality, but what’s clear is that they don’t feel that NATO is prepared and certainly isn’t for any contingency,” Maloof said.

“Russia is doing basically what it should be doing, that is protecting a friend [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and also it is going after ISIS, which is probably going to be more robust than with the United States at this point,” he said, referring to the Daesh terrorist group by an acronym.

“But the Russians also have a geostrategic reason for being in Syria besides protecting Assad, and that is their access to the Mediterranean, so that could be in jeopardy. They have a base at Tartus already. And for years, there’s been a longstanding agreement between Russia and Syria,” the analyst noted.

According to the Foreign Policy report, the Pentagon is also reviewing several hybrid warfare strategies, and even a nuclear attack. “As you look at published Russian doctrine, I do believe people are thinking about use of tactical nuclear weapons in a way that hadn’t been thought about for many years,” says one senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The military strategy has two dimensions. One focuses on what the US would do as part of NATO if Russia attacks one of NATO’s member countries. The other plan considers US action outside the NATO alliance, the report said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Maloof said, “We should be working with the Russians and with the Syrian government in defeating ISIS, but we have such an indecisive leadership, it is pathetic.”

“What’s the Russians are doing is showing of a military void, where the United States should have been actively engaged, and actually should be working cooperatively with the Russians, and also with the Iranians, because everybody in the region is being threatened [by Daesh], and it’s remarkable that Turkey is not a viable participant,” he observed.

“Turkey is an extreme disappointment, and I think the Russians have picked up on this as well with the Turks,” he concluded.

The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine have significantly increased tensions between Russia and the US.

Washington accuses Moscow of orchestrating an “illegitimate referendum to annex Crimea” and fueling unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow, however, has repeatedly denied having a role in the Ukraine conflict, despite accusations by Kiev and its Western backers.

In Syria, Russia is reportedly providing assistance to the government in its fight against Daesh (ISIL) terrorists, while the United States has been working with the foreign-sponsored militants and opposition figures to topple President Assad.

Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since March 2011. More than 230,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced due to the violence mainly fueled by the foreign-sponsored militants.

The United States and its regional allies especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been supporting the militants operating inside Syria since the beginning of the crisis.

The Obama administration has outlined a $500 million program to train and arm some 5,000 “moderate” militants in Syria to fight against Daesh and the Assad government.