Backing for the Assad regime in strife-torn Syria hinges on a centuries-old Russian ambition. From the Crimean War to “the great game” of the 1800s, the lack of a deep, warm-water port has cramped Russia's global desires. Syria, a Cold War ally of the Soviet Union, has provided a solution, by offering its eastern Mediterranean ports of Lafakia and Tartus for Russian naval visits and logistics supplies. A few years ago, this offer turned into virtual control by the Russian navy, which ...

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