Russia has started establishing a permanent military presence at its naval and air bases in Syria, the defense minister said on Tuesday as its parliament ratified a deal with Damascus to cement Russian presence in the country, the Russian International News Agency (RIA) reported.
The deal, signed last January, but as yet not activated, 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.
RIA news agency separately quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying: “Last week the commander in chief [President Vladimir Putin] approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hameimim [air base]. We have begun forming a permanent presence there.”
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 Hameimim air base, from which Russia has launched numerous air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad during his war with rebels, can now be used by Russia indefinitely, according to the deal.