Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Russians to Base Major Forces in Syria?



The Russian Mediterranean Fleet

Sevastopol’ may be traded for the Syrian port of Tartus

The Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, Vladimir Vysotskiy is planning to increase the number of combat ships in Sevastopol’. Also, without waiting for a political decision about the fate of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), he is already thinking about re-basing the BSF in the Mediterranean basin after 2017. Military experts consider the idea of rebasing the fleet to be rational, but consider the announcement to increase the number of vessels to be nothing more than populism. Since Russia doesn’t have any ships to spare the only way to increase the numbers in the BSF would be to take ships from other fleets.

After the publication of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s doubts about Ukraine’s claim to Crimea, the dispute over basing the BSF in Sevastopol’ has broken out with new force. The President of Ukraine, Victor Yushenko quickly signed an order to end the fleet’s lease in 2017 and Russian officials have for the first time quietly raised the idea of paying more rent. At the end of the week the CinC Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotskiy announced that Russia would raise the number of ships in the BSF to one hundred. This number is predicated on a Russian-Ukrainian basing agreement since there are 35 ships in the BSF now. True, the CinC hasn’t said how this increase would come about. Experts think the CinC’s loud announcements are baseless. The President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Leonid Ivashov considers that Russia wont be able to put 100 ships into the Black Sea for another 20 years at the earliest, “since we simply don’t have them. But, by this time, we may already have lost the main base in Sevastopol’. Therefore similar pronouncements must be considered adventurism.” Aleksandr Khramchikhin, the chief of the information-analytical department of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis agrees that to do this obviously involves a transfer of ships from the Baltic and Northern Fleets. “But why we would do this is not completely clear," says the expert.

So with regards to possible new addresses for a renovated BSF, among the most probable appears to be the Mediterranean basin. “A Russian Naval Base can be built there,” Vladimir Vysotskiy announced, noting that “Russia has strategic interests in the world ocean and we will pursue them." Experts welcome the stationing of ships in the Mediterranean Sea. “But today we hardly have a toehold in that basin,” Leonid Ivashov says. “Really only the Syrian port of Tartus, where we can agree with the Syrians to use it. But it’s not as simple as to just pick up and move there since we only have a tender based there now. Redeploying to the Mediterranean partly makes sense, but even then there has to be some sort of presence in the Black Sea since we have to guard our own shores. Therefore light forces will probably stay in Novorossiysk and the heavier forces, which admittedly aren’t very numerous, will transfer to Tartus, where a Russian base will be constructed,” Aleksandr Khramchikhin says.

Since Soviet times there has been a navy repair base in the Syrian port of Tartus. Right now it is a temporary deployment base for the BSF (for about a dozen warships) and there are three floating docks and the repair tender PM-61. Russian specialists are also working on expansion of the port and the construction of a pier in the neighboring port of Al-Latakia. The repair base could potentially receive the designation of basing point and then Navy Base.

Ivan Petrov

02 June 2008

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