Geopolitics of Energy and Russian Military Involvement in Syria

Document Type : Original Article


1 Ph.D Candidate, International Relations, Tarbiat Modarres University, Tehran, Iran

2 Associate Professor of International Relations, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran


In the early 2010th, there was a tide of discontent first in North Africa and then in the Middle East. Syria led by Bashar Al-Assad did not stay away from the public tide of dissatisfaction. Although people initially expressed their unhappiness with the Syrian government, yet by the interference of regional and international actors starting in August 2011, it turned into an international crisis. Russia is among the most important international actors in Syria. Since the time of worsening of the Syrian crisis, Russia along with Iran made diplomatic and political efforts in order to prevent the direct military invasion of the West to Syria like what happened in Libya. Putin announced repeatedly in press conferences addressing his Western counterparts, that military actions of the West in Libya and earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan is doomed to fail and Moscow is trying to reach to a political solution in the framework Geneva peace initiative and based on a multilateral negotiation between the Assad government and its opponents.
However, in September 2015, upon the official request of Bashar Al-Assad, Russia decided to intervene directly in Syria which as a result turned the balance of power in Assad’s favor. Therefore, the question raised here, is why the Putin-led Russia decided in 2015 to start a direct military presence in Syria? In other words, in 2011 through 2015, Russia was striving to find a peaceful solution to Syrian crisis; however, in 2015, it decided for a direct military involvement in Syria, and along with Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon, support Assad against his opponents. This article`s main argument is that “Russia with its geopolitical influence in the Middle East including Syria, seeks to take control over the main energy transfer lines in the Middle East and become the global energy hegemon”. So, the independent variable is “the geopolitics of energy i.e., Russian policy of becoming the global energy hegemon” and the dependent variable is the “the direct military presence of Russia in Syria since 2015”.
Results and discussion
In this line, the authors first mention the original desire in Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union to bring back the Russian Federation to its initial place in international system and turn it to a argue that it is first stated that after the collapse of Russia the leaders in Kremlin were after the return of Moscow to its initial place in the international system; however, the approach and view of the Russian leaders to how become an internationally recognized superpower were different. Yeltsin, the first Russian president, with his Atlantic aids hoped with a cordial relation with the West especially the United States, could achieve this goal. However, the result was nothing but the collapse of the Russian economy; in a way that in the late 1990s, observers suspected that the Russian economy is no more capable of recovering. But, since Putin became president and following his rule over Russia for several years, all political equations changed. Putin emphasizing on Russia’s comparative advantage, saw energy as an important factor in Russia’s power. Consequently, since 1999 when Putin came to power, he tried to make Russia take control over energy transfer routes and energy exporting countries in Central Asia and even the Middle East. To this end, during the 2000s, when projects such as Nabucco and Trans Anatolian pipeline came underway by the Western (mainly European) countries aimed at reducing their oil and gas dependence on Moscow, Russia, on the other hand, started the construction of alternative pipelines and also prevented countries such as Turkmenistan to join the Nabucco and Trans Caspian pipelines.
At the onset of a new crisis in Ukraine in 2014, Europe sought to break dependence on Russia; so, it seemed that the Middle East with its huge gas and oil resources, was a good alternative for Russia. Therefore, countries such as Turkey and Syria as energy transfer routes and Iran, Qatar and Iraq as those with energy (especially gas) resources, were considered potential rivals with Russia. In a view to Syrian crisis and Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015, it is understood that with his military intervention in Syria, Putin succeeded to control all his potential energy rivals. In other words, in 2015, while the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah-Iraq axis was in a relative weakness and anti-Syrian rebel fighters on the one hand and ISIS on the other hand, had seized a vast territory in Syria and Iraq, Russia involved militarily in Syria with the goal of fighting terrorism and preventing the collapse of Bashar Assad. This intervention which is said to be encouraged by Iran, succeeded to limit the Islamic Republic`s maneuvering power as the Russian rival in the field of energy policies. Further, Moscow`s support for Iraq against the ISIS kept this country in line of Russian geopolitical and geo-economics interests in the Middle East. Finally, the Russian military involvement in Syria could prevent Turkey, as one of the most important energy transfer routes, become the major player in the Syrian crisis and thus a serious rival for Russia. Further, Moscow succeeded to distance Turkey from its Western allies and bring it to its orbit. 


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Volume 17, Issue 61
April 2021
Pages 116-144
  • Receive Date: 31 October 2019
  • Revise Date: 18 January 2020
  • Accept Date: 26 January 2020
  • First Publish Date: 21 March 2021