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Tight ties between Russia and Syria stretch back more than four decades. During the cold war, a newly independent Syria aligned with the Eastern block. As a young man, Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, learned to fly fighter jets in the Soviet Union. Soon after taking power in a coup in 1970, the elder Mr Assad paid a visit to Moscow, seeking weapons and support. A lucrative arms pipeline started flowing; when Bashar came to power, he expanded the contracts, turning Russia into Syria's biggest supplier. The Syrian government also allowed the Soviet Union to build a resupply station at the port of Tartus, which is now Russia's sole remaining naval base in the Middle East and on the Mediterranean sea. Syria is also an important Russian military-intelligence base and listening post. Cultural connections elevated the relationship beyond the obvious strategic and commercial interests. Scores of Syrians came to study in the Soviet Union; many married and raised mixed families.

Yet Russia's support for Mr Assad has less to do with Syria per se, than with the West...

The Economist explains: Why Russia is an ally of Assad | The Economist

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