According to Saudi daily Al Watan, citing Free Syrian Army Major Maher al-Naimi, Russia is completing the withdrawal of its citizens and military personnel from its naval maintenance facility in Tartus, the Russian Navy’s only such facility outside the Former Soviet Union. Al-Naimi told the paper that Russian and Cypriot ships had docked at the port in order to evacuate the remaining Russian technicians, as well as 52 of the 72 armored vehicles from the military installation.
The rebel commander said the Syrian opposition, represented by the Syrian National Council and its armed wing, the FSA, considers Tartus to be occupied by a foreign power, that is, Russia and that the city will be “liberated” once the Russian military leaves. Al-Naimi claimed that Russia was evacuating because Moscow recognized the Syrian opposition has the “upper hand” over the Arab Socialist Ba’ath regime of President Bashar al-Assad. He added that the Syrian opposition would not continue Damascus’s level of “strategic partnership” with Russia, China, and Iran and that the Russian military “was not welcome” in Syria.
On August, Russia dispatched 11 warships to the Mediterranean Sea, some of which were bound for the Tartus naval facility. The New York Times reported that “nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.”
The Russian Navy’s evacuation from Tartus, a prospect previously rejected by the Russian government, follows revelations that Russian military personnel stationed in Syria issued the order to down a Turkish fighter jet over international waters on June 22
Newly leaked Syrian intelligence documents obtained by Dubai-based Al Arabiya disclose the true fate of the two Turkish Air Force pilots who supposedly crashed and drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, near Syrian airspace. The NATO military pilots survived the crash, were captured, detained and finally executed by Syrian special forces, all under Russian supervision!
One “highly confidential” document was sent directly from Assad’s office to Brigadier Hassan Abdel Rahman, chief of the Syrian Special Operations Unit, states the following: “Two Turkish pilots were captured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence after their jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in (the Syrian city of) Tartus.” Al Arabiya continues to cite the secret Syrian intelligence documents, noting that Assad intended to transfer the Turkish pilots to the custody of Hezbollah in Lebanon:
The file therefore reveals two critical reports. First, the pilots were still alive after the plane had crashed. And second, that Russia held its share of involvement in this secretive mission.
The same document orders the concerned parties to treat both Turkish pilots according to the protocol of war prisoners, as instructed by the president.
It also requests that both men be investigated about Turkey’s role in supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the country’s main armed opposition group.
The report also suggests the possibility of transferring the pilots into the neighboring Lebanese territory, leaving them in the custody of Assad’s ally, Hezbollah.
In a direct quote, the secret missives from Assad’s desk reveal the NATO pilots’ ultimate fate: “Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership comes a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by the Special Operations Unit in a natural way and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters.” In the end, the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea is exactly where the Turkish search and rescue operation eventually found the F-4 Phantom pilots.
According to Al Arabiya, moreover, Russia and Iran, which along with Syria constitute a tripartite “axis of evil,” have “set up a joint command which intervenes and issues orders on every single matter related to the situation in Syria.” This information, if correct, dovetails with previous reports here that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force is operating in both Syria and Lebanon.
The Russian military’s departure from Tartus also follows revelations that the Assad regime has begun to consolidate its chemical weapons arsenal in Tartus, where it hopes to carve out a rump state for Syria’s minority Alawite sect, of which Assad is a member. Earlier this month, according to Kuwait’s Al-Rai newspaper, citing US and Arab “diplomatic sources,” the Ba’athist regime began to shift the weapons as part of its attempt to create a “safe zone” for top leaders and their families.
Syria is believed to possess “several tons” of chemical weapons-grade material, including sarin gas, which is stored in some 20 separate sites around the country. The chemical arsenal was developed with assistance from Russia and North Korea “for use against Israel,” Al-Rai’s sources added.
Meanwhile, Aleppo’s historic market quarter is in flames as FSA guerrillas, many former soldiers, clashed with regular troops in Syria’s commercial capital and top tourist destination. The mainstream media reports: “Rebel fighters say they will press on with their offensive in the historic heart of the city but are not unconscious of the damage that is being inflicted. ‘It’s part of the heritage of mankind that’s being destroyed,’ a rebel fighter, who gave his name only as Abu Riad, told AFP.”