Russia Moves Forward with Syrian Naval Base

The port of Tartus. The Russian base's berths are at the top center of the image (Digital Globe)

Published Dec 13, 2017 8:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the Russian parliament began its review of an agreement to expand Russia's naval logistics base in Syria into a fully developed naval station, with two extra piers and the capacity for up to 11 vessels at a time. The newly remodeled base at Tartus would also be equipped to service nuclear-powered vessels. 

“The base should be stretched over a decent tract of land, with all necessary security and defense facilities. The base can accept all ships, up to missile cruisers, allowing them to replenish all supplies and give some rest to the crew,” said Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the former chief of staff of the Russian Navy. He added that it would improve the service's strategic reach in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Russian member of parliament Dmitry Belik told state outlet RIA Novosti that a battle group of Russian naval vessels would be permanently stationed in the Med as a deterrent to terrorists, and that the base would provide replenishment services for this force. In addition, Adm. Kravchenko previously told RIA Novosti that the Russian military will need to install an advanced anti-ship missile system at Tartus in order to provide for its defense. 

Some western analysts have suggested that the naval base at Tartus was among the principal reasons for Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war, which proved decisive in defeating American-backed rebel forces and ensuring the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tartus is one of two ice-free southern ports that give Russia year-round access to the Mediterranean, and unlike the other port in this category – Sevastopol – Tartus' access to the sea cannot be blocked by closing the Dardanelles. 

"For Russia, a naval base in Syria . . . is always a place where Russian navy men can take a short rest and hold quick repairs, if necessary. Taking into account that the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions are of strategic importance for world security, Russian forces should stay here indefinitely," said Mikhail Nenashev, chairman of the All-Russian Fleet Support Movement, speaking to Pravda.

The base at Tartus has been under Russian control since 1971, and Russia finalized a 74-year renewal agreement with Syria in January with a 49-year lease followed by a 25-year automatic extension. The enlarged facility will operate outside of Damascus' legal jurisdiction, and Syria will not interfere with any military activities related to its operation. Separately, Russia has also renewed its lease on a military airbase in Western Syria for a period of 50 years.