One of the strangest memes to come out of the recent near-intervention in the Syrian civil war was that somehow Russia had won. The logic was unclear: Russia had humiliated the United States by convincing Syria to give us what we wanted. Or it was somehow a stealthy plan to shore up Russian influence.
I was not convinced that Russia had won anything other than kudos at heading off a Western punitive expedition and helping to get rid of Assad’s chemical stockpile. Consider Russia’s two big gains: keeping the naval “base” at Tartus and the Soyuzneftegaz did get an exploration license for offshore gas.
The naval “base” consists of two small piers and few buildings. (This Russian video of the base will tell you all you need to know. It makes me wish I spoke Russian: the reporter seems surprised at how Mickey Mouse it all appears.) As for Soyuzneftegaz, it will have to spend $90 million with a strong chance of finding nothing or being unable to develop what it does find for many years. For example, Noble Energy discovered the Tamar field in the Eastern Med in 2009 but just started producing last March.
But now we know what Russia wanted!
In September, Syria will begin teaching Russian as a second language in its schools from the seventh grade on!
Note that Syria began teaching English from the first grade in 2001. (The decree is mentioned at the bottom of page 14 at the link.)
Also note that Russian will compete with French.
And do consider that it will be hard to ramp up Russian-teaching what with millions of kids out of school.
But hey, it’s something. What with Russian in steep decline, every little bit helps.
In seriousness, the Russians seem to have shipped up arms shipments to the Syrian government, presumably on credit. I have no idea what they get from it, other than the eventual Syrian payments. Unless those gas fields pan out or the people in the Kremlin get great satisfaction from hearing Syrian high schoolers butcher their language ...