Russia hopes to create a permanent naval base in Syria that would give Moscow a strategic Mediterranean outpost, a Russian broadsheet said June 2.
Russia has begun work on deepening the Syrian port of Tartus and is also widening a channel in another Syrian port, Latakia, the Kommersant newspaper said, citing an official at Russia’s embassy in Damascus, Vladimir Zimin.
The newspaper noted that Russia is seeking alternative accommodation for the Black Sea fleet, based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, as Russia may have to vacate that base when its lease expires in 2017.
“?As an official at Russian naval headquarters explained, the creation in Tartus of a fully fledged naval base should help Russia redeploy the naval and supply ships leaving Sevastopol,”? Kommersant said.
A base in Syria would be in addition to its expanding Black Sea military port at Novorossysk.
Tartus has hosted a supply point for the Soviet and then the Russian navies since the 1970s, the newspaper noted.
“?For the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia will create its own military base outside former Soviet borders, which will allow Moscow to conduct its own political game in the Middle East,”? the newspaper said.
The new Russian naval base in Syria would be protected by a long-range Russian air defense system, the S-300PMU-2 Favorit, staffed by Russian personnel, the newspaper said, citing an unnamed defense ministry official.
The system could also protect a significant portion of Syria, the paper said.
The newspaper said that a permanent base would help in Russian naval cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Russian ships are currently undergoing training to join a NATO counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean, Active Endeavour.
But a permanent naval base would also change “the disposition of forces in the region,”? the paper noted.
“?It means Russia henceforth taking the Syrian regime into its care and protection,”? Kommersant said.
“?Moscow’s stake in Damascus would definitely damage relations between Russia and Israel and could persuade the Iranian regime to be even less compliant in talks on the Iranian nuclear program,”? the paper said.