Russia to build permanent Syrian naval base, eyes other outposts
Andrew Osborn, Reuters, Oct 10 2016
MOSCOW – Russia will create a permanent naval base in Syria, a government boxtop said on Monday, a week after Moscow said it was considering reopening bases in Vietnam and Cuba. The move announced by Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov is evidence Russia is building up its capabilities in Syria, despite a partial drawdown in March. A Reuters analysis of publicly available tracking data shows Moscow has steadily built up its forces in Syria since the ceasefire collapsed in late September, doubling supply runs by air and sea. Senator Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament’s International Affairs Committee, told RIA:
By doing this Russia is not only increasing its military potential in Syria but in the entire Middle East.
The base plan, which will involve upgrading and expanding an existing naval facility at the port of Tartus which Moscow leases from Syria, is part of a push to expand or create a new military presence abroad. The Izvestia newspaper said Moscow was also in talks to open an air base in Egypt, while the state-owned Rossiskaya Gazeta daily noted that Russia has said it wants bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and Singapore too. Russia has in recent weeks, moved S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Tartus, moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, and reinforced its Syria strike force. The Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday that Russian paratroopers would for the first time also take part in war games with Egyptian paratroopers on Egyptian soil this month. Pankov told senators that plans for the permanent naval base at Tartus were well advanced. He said:
The necessary papers are ready and are in the process of being approved by different agencies. We hope we can ask you to ratify these documents soon.
Moscow already has a permanent air base in Syria from which it flies air strikes against anti-Assad rebels and uses military trainers, special forces, marines and artillery specialists to help support Syrian government forces on the ground. Senator Morozov said that having a permanent naval base as well would allow Russia to operate more ships in the Mediterranean as they would have an enhanced facility where they could refuel and resupply. Moscow inherited the Tartus facility when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and it is now the Russian navy’s sole foothold in the Mediterranean. Despite some modernization, it is currently fairly modest and unable to welcome larger warships. Leonid Slutsky, a senior parliamentarian, told RIA its capacity would be expanded and it would be equipped with anti-submarine defenses and new electronics systems on top of the S-300 missiles it recently received.