This conflict is more important to Russia and Russians than any other regional war in recent years. More important than Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It is about the future of Russian economy, about the standard of living of Russian citizens, and about the future of Russia, itself.
Russians want higher standard of living. Achieving it is only possible, if Russian economy is doing well. Currently, a large part of Russian economy depends on the exports of natural gas to Europe.
As long as Russian natural gas prices are lower than the prices of natural gas imported from Saudi Arabia and its neighbours, Europe will buy natural gas from Russia and Russia’s economy will prosper.
What makes natural gas prices lower is lower cost of extraction and lower cost of transportation. Pipelines are cheaper and more secure than tankers that have to travel around the Arabian Peninsula and go through the Suez Canal to reach the Mediterranean Sea and European ports.
Potential suppliers of natural gas to Europe include (by proven reserves):
Iran (1), Russia (2), Qatar (3), Turkmenistan (4) Saudi Arabia (6), Nigeria (8), Algeria (9), Iraq (11), Kazakhstan (14), United Arab Emirates (17), Kuwait (19), Egypt (21), Libya (22), and Ukraine (24). Other countries are too far or have too small reserves to be considered potential natural gas exporters to Europe.
Russia controls existing pipelines (Yamal-Europe, Brotherhood, Soyuz, Transgas, and Central Asia). There are new, proposed pipelines on the drawing board (South Stream and Nord Stream being the two main projects). These allow for cheap, fast, and continuous natural gas delivery to Europe.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait have to ship their natural gas with tankers, which increases the price of their gas on European markets. NATO’s regional allies in the Middle East want to build pipelines to transport their natural gas through Turkey and to Europe at prices that can compete with Russian prices. Europe wants another option to reduce its dependency on imports from Russia. They can not. Iran and Syria are goegraphically in the way. This explains why UK, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey so actively support so called “Syrian rebels.” They want to control Syria to build and control gas pipelines. They want to control Iran to sell Iranian natural gas reserves. Then, they will put Russian gas exports to Europe out of business.
If this happens, Russia’s economy will suffer. Russian prosperity and Russian standard of living will take a dive. Russian diplomacy will lose its power, as Russia will no longer have economic leverage on European NATO members. Russian military will be underfunded and under-equipped, leading to political control of Russia by Western banks and investors. This is why Russia has to defend Syria. A lot is at stake.
Outside of this picture, there is Israel. Perhaps Israel stands to make some money from Middle Eastern natural gas exports to Europe. However, the main reason why Israel pushes for war against Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon is elimination of regional forces that oppose Israel’s illegal and criminal expansion. Therefore, these forces naturally become Russia’s allies, while Israel becomes Russia’s enemy.