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Published On: Wed, Dec 13th, 2017

Putin asks lawmakers to expand Russia’s naval presence in Syria until 2092

nsnbc : Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday submitted a draft treaty to the lower house of parliament (State Duma) that could see Russia’s naval presence in Syria expanded until 2092. The naval base in Tartus, Syria, allows Moscow to project naval power in the Mediterranean without having to negotiate the Dardanelles and Bosporus or the Strait of Gibraltar.

Photo courtesy Kremlin Press Service

Photo courtesy Kremlin Press Service

Putin’s move to ask lawmakers for the expansion of Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean followed his order to withdraw some Russian forces from Syria. Putin’s order to withdraw some troops was announced during a surprise visit at the Hmeynim air base in Syria on Monday, where Putin also met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier this month Putin claimed that the war in Syria was in its final stages and was coming to an end. Many independent analysts saw Putin’s statement as “somewhat realistic” but also likely to be “inspired” by the upcoming presidential elections in early 2018. Putin’s announcement to withdraw troops from Syria has also widely been perceived as part pragmatism and part posturing up to the elections.

Franz Klintsevich, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee for Defense and Security  told the Russian RBC business portal:

“I hope that in the long run, Tartus will become a full-fledged military base. … As the guarantor of Syria’s stability, Russia is defending its interests.”

In 2012 Russia decided to upgrade its auxiliary naval base in Tartus, Syria, to a permanent base - photo from 2012.

In 2012 Russia decided to upgrade its auxiliary naval base in Tartus, Syria, to a permanent base – photo from 2012.

The agreement, which was signed by the Defense Ministries of the two countries on January 18, allows Russia to expand its naval base in the Syrian port city of Tartus.

According to the document on the State Duma’s website, the agreement was based on the “mutual desire” of the parties “to strengthen and develop military cooperation.” The Russian Navy’s continued presence in Syria would be “defensive in nature and not directed against other governments,” the agreement reads.

If ratified, the agreement would extend the Russian Navy’s lease on the Tartus base by 49 years, after which the agreement would automatically enter an additional 25-year period if neither party decides against it. Earlier this year, Russia renewed the lease on its Western Syrian airbase in Khmeimim for an additional 50 years.

The naval base in Tartus is the only base that allows Russia direct access to the Mediterranean. Russia’s Black Sea fleet stationed in Crimea has to cope with the Russian – Ukrainian conflict and access to the Mediterranean can easily be impeded should NATO member Turkey decide to close the Dardanelles or the Bosporus for Russian naval vessels.

The only reasonable alternative Russia has is its northern fleet which would have to clear the narrow Strait of Gibraltar to enter the Mediterranean.

F/AK – nsnbc 13.12.2017

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