Russia will create a permanent naval base in Syria to expand its military footprint in the Middle East, a government official said on Monday, a week after Moscow said it was considering reviving Soviet-era bases in Vietnam and Cuba.
The move, announced by Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov, is further evidence Russia is building up its capabilities in Syria despite a partial drawdown in March and another sign it is digging in for the long haul to help prop up regime head Bashar al-Assad.
“By doing this Russia is not only increasing its military potential in Syria but in the entire Middle East,” Senator Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament’s International Affairs Committee, told the RIA news agency.
A Reuters analysis of publicly available tracking data shows Moscow has steadily built up its forces in Syria since a ceasefire collapsed in late September, doubling supply runs by air and sea.
The base plan, which will involve upgrading and expanding an existing naval facility at the port of Tartus which Moscow leases from Syria, is part of a push to expand or create a new military presence abroad.
The Izvestia newspaper said Moscow was also in talks to open an air base in Egypt, while the state-owned Rossiskaya Gazeta daily noted that Russia has said it wants bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and Singapore too.
At odds with Washington over Syria and Ukraine, Russia has engaged in a bout of sabre-rattling in recent weeks, moving S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Tartus, nuclear-capable missiles to its European exclave of Kaliningrad, and reinforcing its Syria strike force.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that Russian paratroopers would for the first time also take part in war games with Egyptian paratroopers on Egyptian soil this month.