Russia will create a permanent naval base in Syria to expand its military footprint in its closest Middle East ally, a government official said on Monday, a week after Moscow said it was considering reopening Soviet-era bases in Vietnam and Cuba.
The move, announced by Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov, is further evidence Russia is building up its capabilities in Syria despite a partial drawdown in March and another sign it is digging in for the long haul to help prop up President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are going to have a permanent Navy base in Tartus. We have prepared the paperwork, which is now being reviewed by other government agencies. The documents are pretty much ready, so we hope to submit them to you for ratification soon,” General Nikolay Pankov, deputy defense minister responsible for communication with other parts of the Russian government, told the Federation Council, Russia’s senate.
“By doing this Russia is not only increasing its military potential in Syria but in the entire Middle East,” Senator Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament’s International Affairs Committee, told the RIA news agency.
Pankov said plans for the permanent naval base at Tartus were well advanced.
“The necessary papers are ready and are in the process of being approved by different agencies,” he told senators. “We hope we can ask you to ratify these documents soon.”
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.
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.
The Tartus facility has been in place since 1977. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was used to resupply and repair Russian warships deployed to missions in the Mediterranean Sea, but did not serve as a permanent base for any of them. 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.
Last week Russia confirmed delivery of an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Tartus to protect the port facility and mooring warships from potential airstrikes and missile attacks.
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.
The delivery came amid media reports that the Pentagon planned a massive cruise missile attack on Syrian airfields, which would dismantle Damascus’ aerial capabilities.