Russian naval facility in Tartus
|Russian naval facility in Tartus|
|720-й ПМТО ВМФ России в Сирии|
|Part of the Russian Navy|
Map of the Tartus Syrian Naval Base (Russian piers (5) off northern breakwater, most of the balance of facility — numbered buildings — within the dashed line belongs to the Syrian Navy)
|Controlled by||Russian Ministry of Defence|
|Condition||Minimally manned by civilian contractors|
|Garrison||Currently maintained by civilian contractors only (4 servicemen stationed circa 2012)|
The Russian naval facility in Tartus is a leased military installation of the Russian Navy located in the port of the city of Tartus, Syria. Russian official usage classifies the installation as a Material-Technical Support Point (Russian: Пункт материально-технического обеспечения, ПМТО) and not a "base". Tartus is the Russian Navy's only Mediterranean repair and replenishment spot, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to their Black Sea bases through the Turkish Straits.
Tartus hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance facility, under a 1971 agreement with Ba'athist Syria, which was—until the second year of the Syrian Civil War—staffed by Russian naval personnel. Most recently, the facility hosts the Amur class floating workshop PM-138, capable of providing technical maintenance to Russian warships deployed in the Mediterranean.
The Tartus facility can accommodate four medium-sized vessels only if both of its 100 m floating piers, inside of the northern breakwater, are operational. It is not capable of hosting any of the Russian Navy's current major warships which range in length from the 129 m Neustrashimyy class frigate through the 163 m Udaloy class destroyer, much less cruisers such as the 186.4 m Slava class and the 252 m Kirov class, or the 305 m Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier.
The facility was established during the Cold War to support the Soviet Navy fleet in the Mediterranean. During the 1970s, similar support points were located in Egypt, Ethiopia, Vietnam and elsewhere. In 1977, the Egyptian support bases at Alexandria and Mersa Matruh were evacuated and the ships and property were transferred to Tartus, where the naval support facility was transformed into the 229th Naval and Estuary Vessel Support Division. Seven years later, the Tartus support point was upgraded to the 720th Material-Technical Support Point.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and its Mediterranean fleet, the 5th Operational Squadron composed of ships from the Northern Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet, ceased to exist. Since then, there have been occasional expeditions by Russian Navy vessels and submarines to the Mediterranean Sea. The naval logistics support facility in Syria is now part of the Black Sea Fleet. It consists of two floating piers, a floating workshop, storage facilities, barracks and other facilities.
Since Russia forgave Syria of three quarters, or $9.6 billion, of its $13.4 billion Soviet-era debt and became its main arms supplier in 2006, it has been reported that Russia and Syria have conducted talks about allowing Russia to develop and enlarge its naval facility, so that Russia can strengthen its naval presence in the Mediterranean. Amid Russia's deteriorating relations with the West, because of the 2008 South Ossetia War and plans to deploy a US missile defense shield in Poland, President Assad reportedly agreed to the port’s conversion into a permanent Middle East base for Russia’s nuclear-armed warships. Since 2009, Russia reportedly has been renovating the Tartus naval base and dredging the port to allow access for its larger naval vessels.
On 8 September 2008, it was reported that ten Russian warships docked in Tartus. According to Lebanese-Syrian commentator Joseph Farah, the flotilla which moved to Tartus consisted of the Moskva cruiser and four nuclear missile submarines. This was an assertion unconfirmed by any other source and clearly beyond the capability of the facility in Tartus. Two weeks later, Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the nuclear-powered battlecruiser Peter The Great, accompanied by three other ships, sailed from the Northern Fleet's base of Severomorsk. The ships would cover about 15,000 nautical miles (28,000 km) to conduct joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan Navy. Dygalo refused to comment on reports in the daily Izvestia claiming that the ships were to make a stopover in Tartus on their way to Venezuela. Russian officials said the Soviet-era base there was being renovated to serve as a foothold for a more constant Russian Navy presence in the Mediterranean.
In 2009, RIA Novosti reported that the facility would be made fully operational to support anti-piracy operations. Another unsourced report stated that it would also support a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean as a base for "guided-missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers".
Video reporting by Russian TV in late June 2012 provided a tour of the Russian Navy's modest foothold in Tartus. The officer-in-charge conducting the tour said that only four personnel now man the facility and that one of its two floating piers was inoperative because a storm had severely damaged its moorings. The shore facilities comprise a barracks, office space, two medium-sized corrugated metal storage buildings and a covered parking shed for about 5-6 service vehicles. A brief tour of the naval repair vessel then in port and tied to the sole operational pier also showed that it was minimally manned — about 10-12 personnel, including the master and chief engineer. There was no mention of potential repairs or facility expansion.
Syrian Civil War
In late November 2011, Pravda and Reuters announced that a Russian naval flotilla led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was on her way to Tartus as a show of support for the al-Assad government. In the same report, the Russian Navy said that a visit to Tartus had nothing to do with the events in Syria. By 17 February 2012, Admiral Kuznetsov had replenished her supplies and left Syria. There was mention of her entering the port of Tartus. Together with her escort Admiral Chabanenko she returned to her homebase of Severomorsk.
Press reports in March 2012 indicated that Russian special forces arrived at the Tartus port.
On 3 August 2012, international media reported that three large Russian amphibious assault ships, carrying hundreds of Marines would soon visit Tartus. Earlier reports, quoting a source at the Russian General Staff, said the ships would spend a few days in Tartus and would take on fresh supplies of food and water. British media added that the ships each had up to 120 Marines on board. The Russian defence ministry left open the possibility that the ships might dock there at some point for logistical reasons, saying they had every right to do so. The General Staff source, who was not named, had said that after calling in at Tartus, they would head for the Bosphorus and the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The ships, part of Russia's Northern Fleet, were Aleksandr Otrakovskiy, Georgiy Pobedonosets and Kondopoga, all Ropucha class landing ships. The source, quoted by Interfax news agency, said one would anchor off Tartus and the other two would use a floating dock, because the port facilities were limited. There was speculation that Russia may begin evacuating its nationals from Syria and deploy Marines to protect personnel and equipment, as the violence intensifies. Some 30,000 Russian citizens live in Syria, according to the New York Times and Financial Times.
Russian officials have dismissed speculation that their military could intervene in war-torn Syria to bolster Bashar Al-Assad's government.
As of mid-January 2013, there have been no reports of the Russian Navy either actually landing any naval infantry in Tartus or evacuating any Russian citizens using naval vessels. The evacuation of approximately 80 citizens via Beirut on 23 January 2013 has been reported though.
As of May 2013, press reported that Russia had sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near Tartus.
According to Russia Today, on 26 June 2013, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bogdanov reported that the facility does not have any strategic military importance and that Russia decided to evacuate all civilian and military personnel from Tartus. This information was denied by the Russian Defense Ministry on 27 June 2013. It was announced through a ministerial statement that "Tartus is still an official base for Russian ships in the Mediterranean and continues to carry out the tasks in the fulfillment of its missions".
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