Arms importing gets more difficult for Syria
Russian media changed its tone on Friday regarding the cargo of the Syrian plane that was seized by Turkish officials after being forced to land at Ankara airport on it way from Moscow to Damascus on the evening of Oct. 10.
The reports on Thursday had also changed during the course of the day. At first, the claim was that there was no Russian military material on board the plane, and it was even claimed that the cargo was actually lumber. However, following the explanation given by the Turkish Foreign Ministry to the Russian Foreign Ministry upon the demand of Russia, the tone started to change. Izvestia, for example, amended its story.
The official Russian attitude started to change as well. First of all, it was announced that the Russians and Turks had agreed that the rearranged date of the postponed visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey would be Dec. 3. On the December visit, Putin will attend high level cooperation talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, which are planned to include Turkey’s nuclear energy program. Russian firms won the right to build the first plant in Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast and are also bidding to build the second one in Sinop, on the Black Sea coast.
Erdoğan said in a joint press conference with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Friday that the cargo in the plane contained military material sent from an official Russian company to the Syrian Defense Ministry. Russian energy giant Gazprom then announced that it had increased its supply to Turkey by half, in order for the Turks not to suffer from the recent explosion in the pipeline carrying Iranian gas to Turkey. As a last step, it was leaked to the media that Turkish and Russian diplomats had agreed to disagree on Syria, but that they would not let this affect other areas of cooperation between the two countries.
Was this a sign of the Russians caught red handed, or a sign of them being trapped, perhaps by Syrians or some other non-Russian source? That is a question to be answered by Russian security, and by Friday it had become clear that Russian intelligence service FSB had started a detailed investigation to find that out.
Russian Kommerzant reported Friday morning that while there may have been military electronic equipment for Syrian radars on board the plane, no harm should come to them without further notice. According to reports in Russian media, the company that Erdoğan mentioned without giving the name of was Konstruktorskoe Byuro Priborostroeniya (KBP), and the cargo may have been loaded in Tula before the plane taking on its passengers in Moscow.
After this stage, is what Turkey declares to have been attempted to be transported in the plane from Russia to Syria actually important?
The answer is no. Turkey has given a crystal clear message - not only to Russia, but also to whomever it may concern - that to send military equipment to the Syrian regime is much more difficult now. The land borders have been sealed by the Turkish army, the airspace is controlled more tightly by the Turkish air force, and from now on the Syrian Mediterranean ports may be under surveillance by the Turkish navy.
Is it correct to call this a de facto partial siege? Perhaps not at this stage, although Turkey has indeed made arms imports to Syria much more difficult with this move.
It is also intresting to observe that it coincided with Hasan Nasrallah of Hezbollah in Lebanon announcing that the Iranian-made drone that was shot down by Israel on Oct. 6 belonged to them, which may also indicate much tighter control over Lebanese-Syrian transportation from both the Israelis and the Jordanians.
Life is certainly getting more difficult for Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria.