Russia establishing permanent presence at its Syrian bases
Russia has started establishing a permanent military presence at naval and air bases in Syria, the defense minister said on Dec. 26 as parliament ratified a deal with Damascus to cement Russian presence in the country.
The deal will expand the Tartus naval facility, Russia’s only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, and grant Russian warships access to Syrian waters and ports, Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house security and defense committee, told RIA news agency.
RIA separately quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying: “Last week the Commander-in-Chief [President Vladimir Putin] approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim [air base]. We have begun forming a permanent presence there.”
Russia’s Federation Council on Dec. 26 approved a law ratifying the deal between Moscow and Damascus about Russian forces at the naval base in Tartus.
It allows for the Russian Navy to expand its technical support and logistics base. It also enables visits of Russian ships in Syria’s territorial waters, internal waters, and ports.
The Tartus naval facility, in use since the days of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.
The Russian Navy, however, reportedly intends to expand the facility significantly, RT reported.
Under the agreement with Syria, the future base would be allowed to host up to 11 Russian warships, including those with a nuclear power plant.
At the moment there is only one Russian nuclear-propelled military surface ship, the 24,000-ton battlecruiser “Pyotr Velikiy,” according to the report.
The Hmeimim air base, from which Russia has launched numerous air strikes in support of the Assad regime during his war with rebels, can now be used by Russia indefinitely, according to the deal.
“The personnel and the hardware will be ready pretty soon, no problem with that. The infrastructure development will take no more than a year,” Frantz Klintsevich, the chair of the Russian Senate Defense and Security Committee, told Interfax news agency’s military department.
The announcement of permanent Russian bases came more than a month after Putin ordered partial withdrawal of the country’s troops from Syria.
A “significant part” of the Russian military contingent in Syria should return to Russia, Putin said on Dec. 11 addressing Russian military personnel at the Hmeimim base during a surprise visit.
The Russian president said that despite the decision to withdraw “a significant portion of the Russian contingent,” if “terrorists raise their heads” in Syria Russia will hit them with powerful strikes.