New Russia-Syria accord allows up to 11 warships in Tartus port simultaneously
Deutsche Welle, Jan 20 2017
Russia and Syria signed agreements to indefinitely prolong Moscow’s control of the strategic Tartus port, the state Duma announced on Friday. The 49-year agreement allowed Russia to dredge the Mediterranean port, install floating berths and carry out repair works. They would then be able to keep 11 warships, including nuclear-powered ships, in the port of the east Syrian city. Russia would hold sovereignty over the territory, which up to the agreement could only hold two mid-sized ships. Russian forces have used Tartus to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s fight against rebel groups. The 1971-built base was Russia’s only port on the Mediterranean Sea. The deal could be automatically extended for further 25-year periods if neither side objected. Russian defense leader Andrei Krasov said:
This deal, along with last October’s deal in Latakia, means Russia is strengthening its position in the Middle East as a peacemaker and as a guarantor of global security.
The Khmeimim air base in Latakia was built in 2015 to provide a Syrian launching point for Russian forces. In Oct 2015, Stephen Blank of the Pindosi Foreign Policy Council told DW:
One of the reasons Moscow intervened in Syria was to establish a foothold in the region using bases such as Tartus. They intend to have long-term bases in Syria. They’re not just there to save Assad. They’re there to stay as long as they can.
Russia, Syria Sign Agreement On Expanding Tartus Naval Base
RFE/RL, Jan 20 2017
Moscow and Damascus have signed an agreement on expanding and modernizing Russia’s naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, a Russian government document shows. According to the document published on Russia’s official legal information portal on January 20, the deal envisages that 11 Russian warships can be located in the base at one time. Russia has supported President Bashar al-Assad’s government throughout the six-year-old war in Syria and launched a campaign of air strikes in September 2015 to back Assad’s forces. Moscow, a long-time Damascus ally, launched an air campaign in September 2015 to bolster Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad. The Tartus base and a resupply facility in Vietnam are the Russian navy’s only outposts outside of the former Soviet Union. The Russian military also maintains its presence in Syria at an air base in the coastal province of Latakia.
Losing in Iraq, Daesh seeks to shore up Syria presence
Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Reuters, Jan 20 2017
Daesh is fighting hard to reinforce its presence in Syria as it loses ground in Iraq, deploying fighters to seize full control of a government-held city in the east while at the same time battling enemies on three other fronts. It underlines the
residual strength of Daesh even after its loss of a cluster of cities in Iraq and half of Mosul, and points up the challenges facing Pres Trump in the war he has vowed to wage against the group. The Jihadis have opened their most ferocious assault yet to capture the last Syrian government-controlled area in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, a pocket of Deir al-Zor city that is surrounded by Daesh territory. The assault has raised fears for tens of thousands of people living under government authority in the city. Their only supply route has been cut off since Islamic State severed the road to the nearby air base earlier this week. A military commander in the alliance of Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah and Russian air force fighting in support of Assad said:
Daesh is seeking to turn Deir al-Zor city into a base of operations. They want to take it by force, and right now. The situation in Deir al-Zor is very difficult.
Daesh appears focused on strengthening its hold over a triangle of Syrian territory connecting its main base of operations, Raqqa city, with Palmyra (Tadmor) to the south-west and Deir al-Zor to the south-east.
The group seized Palmyra from government forces for a second time last month, a reversal for Assad just eight months after he had retaken control of the city and its world heritage site with the help of the Russian air force. Daesh are also putting up stiff resistance against separate campaigns being waged against them in northern Syria, one by Pindo-backed militias including Kurdish groups, and another by Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups.Rami Abd’ul-Rahman of SOHR said:
They are able to fight on four fronts. If they were in a state of great weakness, they would not be able to do this.
A senior commander in the pro-Assad alliance, also a non-Syrian, said:
The strength of Daesh is that it is a cancerous tumor, and when you remove it from one place, it goes to another.
The commander urged the Pindo-led alliance and “every air force” to attack Islamic State to stop it moving its convoys in the Deir al-Zor area, an apparent sign of dissatisfaction with the current level of support from the Russian air force there. Though Daesh has faced military pressure in Deir al-Zor province, including raids by Pindo SOF, the attacks against it there have been less intense than in other parts of its self-declared caliphate. Deir al-Zor has so far been a secondary priority for the Syrian army and its allies, which are most concerned with their battle against rebel forces in western Syria. The Pindo-backed campaign led by Syrian Kurdish groups has meanwhile focused on encircling and taking Raqqa city. Daesh has been asserting itself in Syria with trademark brutality, this week killing civilians execution-style in Palmyra’s Roman Theatre, he reported. Daesh has also generated headlines by blowing up more of Palmyra’s ancient ruins, with satellite imagery emerging on Friday showing the destruction of one of its most famous monuments. Russia seized on the capture of Palmyra from Daesh last year as evidence of its efforts against the group in Syria, after critics accused it of mostly targeting moderate rebels. As yet there has been no sign of a major effort to take back Palmyra a second time, though the Syrian army and its allies are currently battling Daesh to the west of the city. If Trump follows through on suggestions that he may cooperate with Russia in the fight against Daesh, eastern Syria would be an obvious target. This would however mark a major shift in Pindo policy because it would help Assad. Pindo policy under Obama was built on the idea that Assad had lost legitimacy. Obama rejected any cooperation with Assad in the fight against Daesh, describing his rule as part of the problem. A Syrian official said:
The Pindo-led coalition is doing nothing to prevent Daesh from moving its forces into Syria. This is what’s helping Daesh. After losing Mosul, Daesh will think of reinforcing its capacity in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, because at the end of the day they don’t have any sanctuary, the final battle will certainly be there.