Russia to upgrade its military bases in Syria despite withdrawal announcements

Column: "Legitimizing" Russian occupation of Syria
Russian warplanes and troops at Hmeimim airbase near Latakia

Only a few days after Russia said it started to reduce its military presence in Syria, new plans were published to improve and expand its naval and air bases there to expose the fraud of withdrawing from Syria and show the real extent of Russia’s influence in the war-torn country.

By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention. The Russian intervention tilted the war in favor of Assad regime and cost the rebels many of their strongholds.

After these victories, president Vladimir Putin ordered the reduction of forces in Syria on December 29 as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces, which has since dampened down the fighting.

“In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin, the Russian defense ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria,” Russian news agencies quoted military chief Valery Gerasimov as saying on January 6.

Gerasimov said the naval group headed by Moscow’s sole aircraft carrier – Admiral Kuznetsov – would be the first to leave the area.

“The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled,” said Andrei Kartapolov, Russia’s main commander in Syria.

However, the facts on the ground and Russia’s own declarations proved this to be wrong.

Improving Russia’s bases in Syria

Moscow made a permanent air base in Syria from which it flies air strikes against anti-Assad rebels and uses military trainers, special forces, marines and artillery specialists to help support Syrian government forces on the ground.

After that, Russia announced its will to build a permanent naval base in Syria in October.

“We are going to have a permanent Navy base in Tartus. We have prepared the paperwork, which is now being reviewed by other government agencies. The documents are pretty much ready, so we hope to submit them to you for ratification soon,” Russia said.

The Tartus facility has been in place since 1977. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was used to resupply and repair Russian warships deployed to missions in the Mediterranean Sea, but did not serve as a permanent base for any of them. It is now the Russian navy’s sole foothold in the Mediterranean.

In the new announcement, Russia said it intends to improve and expand the both bases.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as making the remarks on Sunday, adding that Moscow would begin repairing a second runway at Hmeimim Air Base in Syria’s western coastal province of Latakia.

More than 500 housing units are currently at the air base and will be replaced by barracks, shared housing and a new building to accommodate Russian air force commanders.

The source further said Russia also planned to further upgrade its naval base in Tartus. The Russian Navy plans to modernize and expand the Tartus port to allow the entry of cruise ships with cargos of more than 10,000 tons.

Moscow would also deploy S-300 surface-to-air defense systems and Bastion coastal missile launchers in the naval base, the source added, to be added to the previously deployed ones.

These new developments reveal Russia’s real intentions in cementing its presence in Syria, its only overseas military deployment, as a start point to expand its influence and have a bigger role in the global powers game, all while using the term of fighting terrorism.

Putin has previously stated that Russia will “unconditionally continue the struggle against international terrorism and furnish support for the legitimate Syrian government in its struggle with terrorism.”

“It goes without saying that we will stand by the agreements that have been achieved, including the development of the Russian military logistic facilities in Tartus and at the Hmeymim airdrome,” he said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.