- Russia’s defense minister said that Russia has started creating permanent naval and air force bases in Syria, according to RIA news agency.
- Russia had previously said on three separate occasions it had withdrawn from the country.
- The bases Russia will now maintain permanent bases at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast and at Hmeimim as per an agreement it signed in January.
Russia has started establishing a permanent military presence at naval and air bases in Syria, the defense minister said on Tuesday as parliament ratified a deal with Damascus to cement Russian presence in the country, the RIA news agency reported.
The announcement seemed to contradict previous statements that indicated that Russia was withdrawing from the country — it had indicated as much on three separate occasions over the last two years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin initially announced he would be withdrawing the “main part” of Russia’s forces from Syria in March 2016, and then again announced the beginning of withdrawals in January and December of this year.
“In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian Armed Forces Vladimir Putin, the defense ministry is beginning to reduce its armed forces in Syria,” said Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff in January.
But the Russian air force continued to carry out airstrikes and offensives in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout 2016 and 2017, engaging Assad’s enemies everywhere from Aleppo to eastern Syria. Russia had entered the fight in September 2015 in order to combat “terrorism” — which basically included anyone fighting against the Syrian regime.
“Anyone who is killed by a Russian bomb is a terrorist, by definition,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, told CBC.
The latest Russia-Syria deal will give Russia a permanent foothold in the country
The deal signed on January 18 will expand the Tartus naval facility, Russia’s only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, and grant Russian warships access to Syrian waters and ports, Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house security and defense committee, told RIA.
“Last week the Commander-in-Chief [Putin] approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim (air base). We have begun forming a permanent presence there,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to RIA.
The Tartus naval facility, in use since the days of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.
According to the RIA report, the agreement will allow Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels. The agreement will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further.
The Hmeimim air base, from which Russia has launched numerous air strikes in support of Assad during his war with rebels, can now be used by Russia indefinitely, according to the deal.
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