Russia Extends Syria Base Lease
With the world’s eyes turned towards the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, Putin’s government quietly increased its military commitments in Syria. The agreement between Moscow and Assad’s government in Damascus ensures that Russia will continue to have access to Khmeimim Airbase in Latakia and to the naval port at Tartus.
According to The New York Times, Russia’s capacity for naval operations in the Eastern Mediterranean has been doubled by the recent pact. The naval base is now permitted to host as many as 11 Russian vessels. In addition, Khmeimim Airbase has been made into a permanent facility. As reported by state-funded Russia Today, the base was granted to the Russian military in 2015 on a temporary basis, as a “strategic center of Russia’s military operation against the Islamic State.” In reality, however, the forces stationed at Khmeimim mostly targeted rebels resisting the rule of the Russia-friendly Assad regime.
The new lease for the use of these military facilities has guaranteed a Russian presence in the region for at least another 50 years. Furthermore, Foreign Policy reports that the agreement will allow larger vessels and nuclear submarines to dock in Syria. Last year, the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov was found to be too large for the facility. The Russian news agency Tass quoted Duma member Sergei Zheleznyak as saying that the deal between the two countries will “help protect the Syrian people from the terrorist threat and… consolidate stability across the Middle Eastern region.”
Russia’s most recent move in the region is yet another example of President Putin attempting to project power beyond his country’s borders. While the naval base at Tartus is the only Russian port in the Mediterranean, this new arrangement will enable Putin’s forces to act with a greater degree of flexibility in the region. With greater regional capacity, Russia will no longer need to rely on a continuous flow of troops from domestic bases. This news came two days before the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian governments agreed to impose a ceasefire between the rebels and Assad’s government.
President Trump’s relationship with Russia has recently been under the microscope. As the Syrian Civil War enters this new phase, observers in the United States will watch with keen eyes for how the Trump Administration reacts.