Russia Plans Permanent Naval Base in Tartus as Middle East War Escalates

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Russia Plans Permanent Naval Base in Tartus as Middle East War Escalates
Published 10-10-2016, 15:30

Christof Lehmann

Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Russia plans to transform its auxiliary naval base in Tartus, Syria, into a permanent Russian military base. Situated at the eastern Mediterranean coast, the permanent base would not only increase Russia’s presence in the Mediterranean but help circumvent the Bosporus bottleneck in NATO member State Turkey. The decision comes against the backdrop of a widening Middle East war and tensions over Crimea.

Tartus Naval Base - photo from 2012.

Tartus Naval Base – photo from 2012.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov, on Monday, said that Russia plans to transform its auxiliary naval base in Tartus, Syria into a permanent naval and military base. Speaking at the meeting of the Russian Federation Council’s international affairs committee, Pankov said:

"In Syria, we will have a permanent naval base in Tartus. The corresponding documents have been drafted. Currently they are in the process of inter-departmental coordination. The degree of readiness is rather high. We hope that we will soon ask you to ratify these documents”.

Pankov’s announcement about Russia’s plans for Tartus came only days after the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it was considering to re-establish a presence at military bases it used before the discontinuation of the Soviet Union. Talks between Russia and Vietnam are reportedly ongoing, as part of the Russian Federation’s new posture.

The Deputy Chairman of  the international affairs committee of Russia’s State Duma (parliament), Alexey Chapa also called for restoring Russian military bases in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

The naval base in Tartus at the northwestern coast of Syria is currently used as auxiliary bas. That is, as a logistics supply base for Russian vessels and as a base to support Russian operations in Syria via the Hmeymim Air Base in Latakia province. Russia recently deployed S-400 surface to air missile batteries in Tartus.

The State Duma on October 7 ratified a Russian-Syrian agreement on the open-ended deployment of the Russian air group in Syria. The agreement was signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015. Nearly a year later President Vladimir Putin submitted it to the State Duma for consideration. The Federation Council will consider the agreement on October 12.

Click on map to enlarge.

Click on map to enlarge.

The  establishment of a permanent naval presence in Tartus involves political posturing, An unequivocal sign that Russia, as already forecast by this author in 2012, draws a red line in the Syrian sand. The transformation of Tartus into a permanent Russian base has, however, geopolitical and strategic implications within a wider context than Syria.

The Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea would have to pass through the Bosporus and the narrow Dardanelles to reach the Mediterranean. This "choke point” is controlled by NATO member Turkey. Moreover, NATO member States have increased their naval presence in the Black Sea since the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, or Crimea’s accession into the Russian Federation.

Which of the two constructs one considers as valid largely depends on whether one interprets international law to the effect that self-determination has primacy over territorial integrity or whether territorial integrity has primacy over self-determination. The outcome is the same; The Russian Black Sea fleet and its access to the Mediterranean has been threatened by the escalation of the situation in Ukraine.

Russia’s Northern Fleet, on the other hand, also needs to pass several "choke points” before it can reach the Mediterranean. The most important one is the Strait of Gibraltar, but there are other choke points, including the Region around St. Petersburg itself, the "Storebælt” between Sweden and Denmark, the Skagerrak, between Denmark and Norway, the English Channel, or the waters between the north of Scotland and the Danish Farrow Islands in the North Atlantic.

Bab Al-Mandeb Strait. Southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

Bab Al-Mandeb Strait. Southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

Russia is reportedly also negotiating the presence of Russian naval vessels in Egypt to further boost its footprint in the Mediterranean, a development that is closely correlated to the construction of a Russian industrial zone along the new Suez Canal. The decision to transform Tartus into a permanent Russian naval base also comes as the wars in Syria and Iraq have developed into what must be described as a wider Middle East war.

This war currently involves Syria and Iraq, increased clashes between Iraqi – Kurdish KDP-I forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in northwestern Iran, potential clashes between Turkish, federal Iraqi and Iraqi, Iranian backed forces with western-backed northern Iraqi – Kurdish Peshmerga, clashes between US-backed Syrian Kurds  and Turkey in northern Syria, clashed between forces of the Moscow and Iranian – backed Kurdistan Workers Party – PKK in Turkey, parts of Lebanon,  as well as the proxy war in Yemen that could pose a substantial threat to naval traffic in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

 

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