Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday (Dec. 23) ordered the expansion of the Russian naval base in the Syrian port city of Tartus, according to the Russian media.
The expansion of the naval base comes days of the capture of the Syrian city of Aleppo by the Russian-backed Syrian forces. This comes also four days after the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov on December 19.
Russian news agency Sputnik quoted the Kremlin’s website as reading: “Vladimir Putin signed a decree on signing the agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on expanding the territory of the Russian logistics centre in the port of Tartus and on the arriving of Russian ships at the territorial sea, national waters and ports of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
The Russian Defense Ministry announced plans in October to establish a permanent naval base in the western Syrian port city of Tartus where it has been keeping a small naval maintenance and support facility since 1977, Sputnik said.
Tellingly, the Kremlin announced the expansion of Tartus base while Putin was addressing a press conference in Moscow on Friday. The French news agency AFP described the move as flexing muscle by Putin.
According to Wikipedia, the Russian naval facility in Tartus is a leased military installation of the Russian Navy located in the port of the city of Tartus, Syria. Russian official usage classifies the installation as a Material-Technical Support Point and not a “base”. Tartus is the Russian Navy’s only Mediterranean repair and replenishment spot, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to their Black Sea bases through the Turkish Straits.
Tartus hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance facility, under a 1971 agreement with Syrian government, which was—until the second year of the Syrian Civil War — staffed by Russian naval personnel. Most recently, the facility hosts the Amur class floating workshop PM-138, capable of providing technical maintenance to Russian warships deployed in the Mediterranean.
The Tartus facility can accommodate four medium-sized vessels only if both of its 100 m floating piers, inside of the northern breakwater, are operational. It is not capable of hosting any of the Russian Navy’s current major warships which range in length from the 129 m Neustrashimy y class frigate through the 163 m Udaloy class destroyer, much less cruisers such as the 186.4 m Slava class and the 252 m Kirov class, or the 305 m Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier.
The facility was established during the Cold War to support the Soviet Navy fleet in the Mediterranean. During the 1970s, similar support points were located in Egypt, Ethiopia, Vietnam and elsewhere. In 1977, the Egyptian support bases at Alexandria and Mersa Matruh were evacuated and the ships and property were transferred to Tartus, where the naval support facility was transformed into the 229th Naval and Estuary Vessel Support Division. Seven years later, the Tartus support point was upgraded to the 720th Material-Technical Support Point. [Wikipedia]
The expansion of Tartus base follows an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran to resolve the US-instigated Syrian war. The three countries agreed to take on the role of guarantors to facilitate the process preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and spreading the cessation of hostilities to all parts of the country. Other states are welcome to join. The declaration is just a start, the efforts by the three parties will continue. The document was signed by the three countries’ foreign and defense chiefs at the December 20 meeting in Moscow.
The Global Research says that the joint declaration reflects the progress achieved by Russia in developing cooperation with Ankara and Tehran. For instance, Turkey, a NATO member, is in talks with Russia regarding the purchase of advanced S-400 long-range air defense missile systems. The parties are studying the prospects for boosting military cooperation in all areas, including procurement deals in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology. The related issues were discussed during the visit of General Hulusi Akar, the head of the Turkish armed forces’ General Staff, to Moscow on November 1.
Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism. According to Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, Turkey will do everything needed for cooperation with Russia on Syria. He said “a new page has opened” in the history of defense cooperation with Russia. The Turkish defense chief also underscored that his county “will develop close relations with Russia in the defense area based on its interests and this will not be a step against NATO or any other country”.
Russia and Turkey are on the way to implement the ambitious Turkish Stream gas project.
The progress is made against the background of worsening ties between Turkey and the US and its NATO allies. Ankara has been angered by what it sees as lukewarm condemnation by its Western allies of the abortive July 15-16 coup. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in November that he was disillusioned with the US policies in his interview with CBS 60 Minutes. Turkey’s officials have complained about NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with Turkey.
Ankara is mulling the possibility of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or Shanghai Pact. The SCO is defined as “a Eurasian political, economic and military organization.” Joining it would mean a radical change of sides for Turkey, according to Turkish journalist Semih Idiz. He warned that if it were to happen, it would also have serious regional and global ramifications, since Ankara would most probably have to not only give up on its EU bid, but also its NATO membership.
The relations between Russia and Iran have grown warmer since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, became effective. President Vladimir Putin visited Iran last November – his first visit after 2007. There are lucrative economic projects on the bilateral agenda.
The two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power. Russian warplanes have used Iranian airfields to strike terrorist targets in Syria. The militaries hold join exercises. Russia has delivered modern S-300 air defense systems to Iran.
The foreign ministers of Turkey and Iran have recently pledged greater cooperation on resolving Syria’s crisis, vowing to keep the dialogue open despite their differences. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran was ready to work and cooperate with Turkey and Russia on the issue of Syria, adding that it welcomed the new cooperation that has started between Moscow and Ankara.
The significance of the declaration signed in Moscow on December 20 is hard to overestimate The Global Research said adding: This is an international effort undertaken by the states that have forces on the ground to really influence the situation in Syria. With Aleppo retaken and the future policies coordinated, peace appears to have a chance in the war-torn and long-suffered country.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com