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By Simon Watkins Syria is crucial to Russia for three key reasons. First, it is currently the principal Western point of the Shia crescent of power that stretches from Syria and Lebanon through Iraq and Iran and then south into Yemen that Moscow has been cultivating for years as a counterpoint to the U.S.’s own sphere of influence centered on Saudi Arabia. Second, it offers a long Mediterranean coastline from which it can send oil and gas products (its own or those of its allies, notably Iran) for export either into major oil and gas hubs in Greece and Italy or into northern, western and eastern Africa. Third, it is a vital military hub, with one major naval port (Tartus), one major air force base (Latakia) and one major listening station (just outside Latakia). Syria also has significant oil and gas resources that can be used by the Kremlin to offset part of the costs it has incurred as part of its geopolitical maneuvering and Russia is moving forward on 40 principal projects in these sectors right now.