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. 


  1. Allison, Roy (2013). “Russia and Syria: Explaining alignment with a regime in crisis”, International Affairs, Vol. 89, Issu.4, pp. 795-823.
  2. Austvika, Ole Gunnar & Gülmira Rzayeva (2017), “Turkey in the geopolitics of energy”, Energy Policy, Vol. 107, pp. 539-547.
  3. Barzegar, Keyhan et all (2018). “The Recent Upheavals in the Arab World, Regional Balance of Power and New Grouping in the Middle East”,

Geopolitics Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 51, pp 128-142.[In Persian]

  1. Breslauer, W. George (2009). “Observations on Russia's Foreign Relations under Putin”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Volume. 25, Issue. 4, Published online: 16 May 2013,
  2. Coşkun, Bezen Balamir and Richard Carlson (2010). "New energy geopolitics: why does Turkey matter?" Insight Turkey, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 205-220.‏
  3. Donaldson, Roberth H. et all (2014). The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems Enduring Interests, Routledge: London and New York.
  4. Duren, Tyler, (2013). “Is the US Going to War with Syria over a Natural Gas Pipeline?”, Proquest Center, Chatham: Newstex, Vol. 5. http://search.proquest .com/central/docview/1429921778/fulltext/28EE021FE80844B8PQ/3?accountid=45153
  5. Ediger, Volkan Ş. & Durmaz, Duygu (2017). “Energy in Turkey and Russia’s Roller-Coaster Relationship”, Insight Turkey ,Vol. 19, No. 1 , pp. 135-155
  6. Valenta, Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta (2016). “Why Putin Wants Syria”, Middle East Quarterly, pp 1-17.

10. Ghaderi Hojat, Hamid and Hamidreza Nosrati (2012). “Geopolitical Goals of Regional and Trans-Regional Powers in Central Asia”, Geopolitics Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 26, pp 63-95 , [In Persian]

11. Hafeznia, Mohammad Reza (2006). Principles and Concepts of Geopolitics, Mashhad: Papoli Publication. [In Persian]

12. Haji-Yousefi, Amir M., (2017). “Iran`s Policy in the Syrian Civil War, European Consortium for Political Research, /b14c6559-785e-442e-83be-5970539716bf.pdf

13. Haji-Yousefi, Amir M. & Abbas Zolfaghari (2017). “Strategic Culture and the Russian Foreign Policy in the Middle East”, Foreign Relations Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp 165 – 192.[In Persian]

14. Haji-Yousefi, Amir M. et all (2019). “Main Factors Influencing Russia- Iraq Alignment”, Central Eurasia Studies, to be published. [In Persian]

15. Hedlund, Stefan (2014), Putin’s Energy Agenda, Lynne Rienner Publishers.

  1. 16.  

17. Irkhin, Aleksandr , Moskalenko, Olga (2019). “Russia’s Foreign Policy in the Greater Mediterranean: Prospects and Constraints”, Geopolitics Quarterly,

18. Ivanenko, Vlad (2008). “Russian Energy Policy and Its Domestic and Foreign Implications” , Russian Resurgence, Vol. 63, No. 2, pp. 263-274   http://www

19. Kardaş, Şaban (2012). “Turkey-Russia energy relations: The limits of forging cooperation through economic interdependence“, International Journal: Canada`s Journal of Global Analysis, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 81-100 Published by: Stable URL: Accessed: 13-01-2017 01:29 UTC

20. Katusa, Marin (2015). The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp,translated by Mohsen Khezri and Mehdi Khodaee, Tehran: Kavir Publication. [In Persian]

21. Koolaee, Elahe & Afife Abedi (2018), “Geopolitical Components of the Russian Foreign Policy”, Geopolitics Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 49, pp 1-25. [In Persian]

22. Korammi, Masoud & Majid Sheikh Mohammadi (2017), “Modeling and Analysis of the Russia and Europe Competition on Energy, Based on the Game Theory, , Geopolitics Quarterly, Vol. 3, Issue. 11, pp. 117- 138, http: //[In Persian]

23. Krauer-Pacheco, Ksenia, (2011).” Turkey as a Transit Country and Energy Hub”, Forschungsstelle Osteuropa Bremen Arbeitspapiere und Materialien, No. 118.

24. Kuznetsova, Natalia Victorovna (2015). “Energy Strategy of the Russian Federation”, Mediterranean Journal of Social Science, Vol. 6, No. 5,

25. Likhachev, Vladimir (2012). “The Role of Energy in Russia’s Relations with Turkey and Iran”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, pp 1-7

26. Lo, Bobo, (2015), “Russia and the New World Disorder”, Chatham House London, Brookings Institution Press, First Published.

27. Mamedov, Ruslan (2018). “Moscow’s Iraq Strategy: Make Lots of Friends”, AL-Monitor, May 9.

28. Milani, Mohsen (2013).“Why Tehran won’t Abandon Asad?”, The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 36, Issu. 4, pp 79-93.

29. Ministry of Energy of the Russian federation (2010). Energy Strategy of Russia for the Period up to 2030.

30. Mojtahed zadeh, Pirouz (2007). Political Geography and Geopolitics, Tehran: Ney Publication.[In Persian]

31. Northrup, Chip (2013). “Syria’s Gas Pipeline War: “Operation Gas Pains”, September 7,

32. Nosrati, Hamidreza and Kamel Moniri (2011). Diplomacy and Energy Security, Tehran: Nashr. [In Persian]

33. Özbay, Fatih (2011).” The Relations between Turkey and Russia in the 2000s”, Perceptions, Volume XVI, No. 3, pp. 69-92.

34. Ozpek, B., Burak(2013). “Securing energy or energizing security : the impact of Russia ’ s energy policy on Turkey’ s accession to the European Union’, Journal of International Relations and Development, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp 358-379, doi:10.1057/jird.2012.21

35. Oliker, Olga et all (2009). Russian Foreign Policy, Rand Project Air Force, Vol.14, Issue. 2, 189, pp 1-220

36. Philips, Christopher (2018). The Battle for Syria, Yale University Press.

37. Schneider, Brett A (2012). “Russian Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Priorities and effectiveness”, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, Denver University.

38. Shams Dowlatabadi, Mohammad Reza (2013). Geopolitical Interests Strategy, Tehran: Supreme National Defense University, [In Persian]

39. Shima, Rakesh Krishan (2015). “TROIKA REPORT: Washington ups the ante with sanctions on Gazprom”, Russia Beyond, Available in:, Access on: 07/2019

40. Sotiriou, Stylianos (2015). Russian energy strategy in the European Union, the former Soviet Union region, and China, Maryland: Lexington Books.

41. Stent, Angela (2016). “Putin's Power Play in Syria”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 95, Issue. 1, pp.106-113.

42. Tagliapietra, Simone (2013). “Towards a New Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor?”,

43. Trenin, Dmitri (2016), “The Revival of the Russian Military”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 95, No. 3, pp. 22-29.

44. Ulutas, Ufuk, Dura, Burhanettin (2018). “Traditional Rivalry or Regional Design in the Middle East?”, Insight Turkey, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 81-105, DOI: 10.25253/99.2018202.06

45. Yıldız, Taner,”Turkey’s Energy Economy and Future Energy Vision”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol 9, No 2.

46. Zahrani, Mostafa, Faragi LoheSara, Tyemoor (2016). “The Russian Federation's Geopolitical Approach to the Syrian Crisis", Journal of Central Asia and Caucasus Studies, No. 44, pp 43-70, [In Persian]

47. Zaree, Bahador et all (2014), “Strategic Position of the Persian Gulf Geo-economics and the Competition of Major Powers in the 21st Century”, Human Geography Research Quarterly, Vol. 46, Issue. 2. [In Persian]