Russia’s Syria Gamble

                             by David Parmer

The question is not why are the Russians in Syria now; they have been there since the 1970s. Russia’s last naval base outside its homeland is in Tartus, Syria. And Syria buys Russian weapons, and has done so for a long time. No, the question is why has Russia stepped up in the autumn of 2015, deployed more than 50 aircraft of all types and put 4,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and started a massive bombing campaign in support of the Assad regime that reportedly has exceeded 1,000 sorties? Why?

The simplest reason is probably that Russia sees intervention in the Syrian conflict as being in its self-interest. Putting aside Russia’s natural support for its main Middle East client, which is a “no-brainer”, there are two likely reasons for Russia’s current Syria policy:

1) Foreign Fighters: There are an estimated 7,000 Russian fighters who have joined ISIS in Syria as well as 1700 of Russian origin in Iraq. It is likely that Russia would rather take on and destroy these fighters here (Syria) and now than have them become battle hardened and bring their extremism back to Mother Russia.

2) To Prevent a Failed-State Vacuum: Russia’s (and everybody except ISIS’s) worst nightmare would be Syria turning into another Somalia. A lawless, wild west in Russia’s back yard is simply not an option. So Russia has decided to prop up its client Assad and keep him in the game deciding that the alternative (a failed state and a power vacuum) would be unthinkable. One way of looking at this would be to consider that even though Russia is keeping the house of cards upright for its own purposes, it is doing the region and the world a service, since, in our inner-connected world, there is no more “over there”—in our digi-sphere we are all in it together.

Is Russia’s ploy going to work? Is the Russian variable the one that will stabilize things in this conflict? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but Mr. Putin has put his chips on the table and the wheel is spinning.

Foreign Fighters In Syria:

Putin on Foreign Fighters

Photo: Russian Federation MOD


Asian Waters—Huang Ho, The River of Many Names

                                  by David Parmer

China’s Yellow River, the Huang Ho, is also known as The Mother River, and more-tellingly, China’s Sorrow. Massive and deadly flooding over the centuries has given it this last name. And it is called the Yellow River because of the color imparted by the Loess soil ( an estimated 1.6 billion tons annually) that it sweeps to the sea.

The Yellow River flows 5,465km from its start in the Bayan Har mountains in Qinghai Province to its terminus where it joins the busy Bohai sea below Beijing. Its route takes it from the Tibet Plateau through the Ordos Desert and the Ordos Loop to the North China plains and then to the sea.

  There are 20 dams along the course of the river, with 18 more planned by 2030. Apparently people have been damming the river since ancient times, often altering the course and causing some of the disastrous floods that history records. The yellow Loess soil is fertile, and supports the cultivation of much of China’s cotton and wheat. And historically, the Yellow river at its western end marks the start of the Silk Road, while the lower Yellow River valley is marked as the starting place for Chinese civilization.

Beautiful and powerful, China’s Mother River is not without her problems. Periodic flooding is caused by deforestation and the embankment of tributaries for irrigation. It has been estimated that 85% of the river’s water is unsafe for drinking. Other estimates say 1/3 of the river is un-useable dew to sewage, industrial chemicals and pesticides.

China Daily Yellow River

 Yellow River Dam Henan (China Daily)

In their paper, “Water Crisis in the Huang Ho (Yellow) River”, G. Fu and S. Chen state:

Industrialization, population growth, and other associated human activities along with global warming and the unique water characteristics and arid and semi-arid climate zone of the Yellow River basin have caused a dry up phenomena in the Yellow River basin during the last three decades.

The authors also write about possible countermeasures:

In order for changes to be made several countermeasures have been proposed. These include: water savings, water management, increased regulation, water transfer, and rational and practical groundwater use.

As we have seen in this series, Asian Waters, many of Asia’s water resources are at risk, and it is only by wise management and long-terms thinking that these resources like the great Yellow River will be preserved and continue to give their countless gifts to humankind on planet Earth.

Water Crisis in the Huang Ho

Main Photo: Global Water Partnership