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 Occupation of Crimea and war in Syria - elements of Putin's broader expansionist plans, - USA Today

Russia plans to keep its military bases and troops in Syria for retaining political influence in the Mediterranean region.

Censor.NET reports, referring to USA Today article by Alexander Werman, a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Two weeks ago, the author writes, in a meeting with his top advisers in Moscow, Putin formally declared that - having succeeded in "radically" changing the situation on the ground in Syria - "the main part" of the Russian military contingent there would be pulled back. To hear Putin tell it, the move is intended to spur a cessation of hostilities in the long-running conflict. "I hope that this will considerably increase the level of trust between all parties of the Syrian settlement and will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian issue," the Russian president said in televised comments. The real motivations behind the Kremlin's withdrawal, however, are likely more strategic. And Russia's most recent maneuver should not be construed as an end to Russia's involvement in Syria - or of its imperial ambitions, the expert believes.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has consistently sought to expand westward, and to exploit regional conflicts to establish a political (and strategic) presence in its former holdings and satellites. According to the author, the results speak for themselves. The Kremlin now has troops stationed in the separatist Moldovan enclave of Transnistria. It has installed Iskander ballistic missiles and positioned more than 10,000 troops in Kaliningrad in a bid to pressure the Baltic States. It has recognized, and subsequently sustained, the "independent" regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in neighboring Georgia. And, most recently, it encouraged a stage-managed referendum that gave it the pretext to annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Now, having seized naval bases in Bakhchysarai and Novoozerne, as well as the Novofedorivka airbase, Russia has succeeded in substantially expanding its military presence in the Black Sea. Now, Russia has launched a substantial upgrade of its Black Sea Fleet, greatly expanding its strategic capabilities there. These steps, together with the deployment of mobile ballistic missile systems onto the Crimean Peninsula, has allowed Moscow to establish what U.S. Air Force General Phillip Breedlove has termed a Russian "anti-access/area-denial" strategy for the Black Sea. Now, Russia is moving into the Mediterranean.

Read more: Russia conducts powerful militarization of occupied Crimea, seeks to deploy nuclear weapons, - Poroshenko

The Kremlin recently signed an agreement with Cyprus allowing its ships access to Cypriot ports. It has also begun building or updating four separate naval and air bases on the Mediterranean coast as part of its entry into the Syrian conflict.

Moscow's footprint in Syria, meanwhile, has grown exponentially. The Russian government has spent millions of dollars on massive air, artillery and intelligence support intended to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But it has also done much more under the guise of countering the terrorists of the Islamic State. Russia's naval presence at the key base of Tartus, for example, has swelled from a small shipping facility to a powerful operating base with 1,700 personnel. Its airbase at Latakia has undergone a major upgrade. The author claims that as of early February, Russia was carrying out roughly 60 sorties a day against assorted opponents of the Assad regime. And he is confident this activity needs to be understood in its proper context: not as temporary aid to a struggling ally, but as part of a larger, sustained strategy by Russia to expand its strategic presence in the Mediterranean.

Russia's activism, moreover, has continued despite the increasingly dire state of the country's economy, which has been ravaged by low world oil prices and Western sanctions alike. There is still much that needs to be done to end the Syrian civil war. But a cessation of hostilities is not among Russia's chief goals. Protecting its military assets and political influence along the Mediterranean Coast, by contrast, are. That is why Russia plans to keep an active airbase and an undeclared number of forces in Syria. By doing so, Moscow will maintain the ability to ramp up its involvement there again if it deems necessary, the author concludes.

Read more: No country was eager to sell Ukraine even non-lethal weapons due to fear of Putin, former Australian PM Abbott says
 
 
 
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