Russia's entry into the Syrian Civil War is not incidental. While some people may see Russia's involvement in the war as that of a old lumbering superpower trying to impose its will on the local populace while propping up a hated figure of the regime, Russia's involvement is not on Syria's behest, but of her own.
Despite Syria being the cradle of several religions (all Abrahamic religions have Syria deeply rooted in their history), Syria had taken the path to be a secular nation via Syrian Baath Party.
The path to a secular nation however, did not prevent Syria from being antagonistic towards Israel. The antagonism stems from not religion, but due to Pan-Arab nature of the Baath Party.
That attracted USSR, the largest country in the world in the 60's and the leading leader in communism and secularism to be ally with Syria and the Arab world. (The West on the other hand, which was led by the US, was largely seen as a Judeo-Christianity bloc espousing the benefit of capitalism).
So how close was Russia with her Middle-East allies? Would supplying weapons to the Middle-East countries qualify as strong support? This was put to the test by joint British, French and Israeli forces during the Suez Canal Crisis.
Suez Canal Crisis (1956)
Israeli forces under the command of Maj Gen Moshe Dayan, popularly known as the One-Eyed General invaded the Suez Canal with the intention of taking over the canal to allow critical sea line of communication for Israel and her allies in the west.
The invasion was assisted by Britain who was angered by Egypt's forcible takeover of the canal despite prior agreement for joint-control to the canal till at least 1968. French was involved due to Egypt's involvement in the Algerian insurgency against French-ruled Algeria.
As Egyptian forces suffered catastrophic losses in many fronts, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev intervened, threatening to launch nuclear warheads against London, Paris and Tel Aviv.
The threat together with US reluctance to be involved in another foreign war were instrumental to force Israeli, British and French forces to leave Suez Canal.
Syria Is Not Egypt
Admittedly, Syria is not Egypt. However, Russia - Middle-East relationship grew out of the same seed planted by Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai when he recommended Nikita Khrushchev to be friendly with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
|President Gamal Abdel Nasser|
Of the relationship that grew out from this seed, Egypt had fell under US' control during the rule of President Husni Mubarrak. Iraq fell under US' sphere when Saddam Hussein lost the war, while Libya fell when Muammar Gadaffi fell.
|Egypt, Libya and Syria. Two fell, one left standing.|
Realising that if they do not enter into the conflict, Russia will lose a foothold in the region indefinitely, with Iran having to face western hegemony in the region.
Thus, Russia had to enter into Syria immediately to prevent Bashir al-Assad's government from collapsing.
The fall of Libya brought realisation to Russia that the Middle-East conflict is in actual fact, a proxy war. Noting that countries that fell later became pro-US and that most of these anti-government elements in the Arab Spring were pro-West, they realised it was similar to proxy war that seek to remove Russia's close allies disguised under so-called fight for freedom banner.
When CIA took to accept Daish as one of their proxy militant groups to fight against Bashir al-Assad government, US had unwittingly invited Russia's involvement into Syria.
One of Daish key allies are Chechen militants. Many of them survivors from the Chechen war, they sought to fight against any countries which they deemed as have a part in subjugation of Chechen in their war for independence by allying themselves with any forces willing to help them to bring their war against the Russians.
|Abu Omar al-Shishani|
If Daish is successful in Middle-East, they are likely to seek to destabilise the Caucus again after years of fighting, which Russia could not afford to allow to happen. A successful Daish in Middle-East will open up a logistical pipeline and financial support to the dying rebellion in Chechnya.
Concurrently, Russia's other close friend and potential ally, China is also facing direct threat from Daish. In 2012, it was estimated that there were about 300 Chinese Uiyghur Muslims from the East Turkestan Movement had sworn baiyah to Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi.
Request from Iraq
Syria was not the only country which requested for Russia to intervene in Middle-East.
With then US President Barrack Obama committing to withdraw troops from Iraq, Iraqi government was desperate for assistance. The fall of Mosul and Tikrit to Daish had brought panic to Baghdad.
Fearing a situation similar to Saigon, they sought for Russian intervention, which immediately supplied to them SU25 Froggers to improve combat air support for Iraqi forces facing Daish troops.
Access to Deep Sea Port
A key reason for Russia to be involved in Syria is access to Port of Latakia.
The fall of Libya resulted in Russia losing a key port facility in the region. While Russia can still count on Iran for port facility, that move leaves too many eggs in a single basket. If Iran fell, Russia will no longer have access to the region.
Why would Russia need to have a port in the region when it is far away from Russia? The access would ensure safe passage for Russian forces in the event if they need to be deployed to Russia Far East, specifically the Sakhalin.
Located near Japan, it was taken over by Russia at the end of World War 2 from Japan. While Japan is still claiming sovereignty over the island, Russian hold over the island had solidified.
Still, Russia still remember with humiliation the fall of Russian fleet against Japanese fleet in 1905 Battle of Tsushima, where Japanese Imperial Navy fleet had defeated a Russian Navy battle group, sinking 21 out of 38 Russian Navy ships.
Russian Navy fleet sent to Far East to support their campaign there had to use a longer route via Cape of Good Hope, and had diminished supplies and morale, which in turn contributed to their defeat.
to be continued...