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CFC In Focus: The Syrian Port of Tartus, 22 January 2013

CFC In Focus: The Syrian Port of Tartus, 22 January 2013

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Published by CFC Cimicweb
This document provides the ‘In Focus’ excerpt from the MB Weekly 22 January 2013. The ‘In Focus’ section of the weekly gives our readership a more detailed reporting of an event or topic of particular relevance in the Mediterranean Basin and other regions of interest. ‘In Focus’ pieces provide hyperlinks to source material highlighted and underlined in the text.
This document provides the ‘In Focus’ excerpt from the MB Weekly 22 January 2013. The ‘In Focus’ section of the weekly gives our readership a more detailed reporting of an event or topic of particular relevance in the Mediterranean Basin and other regions of interest. ‘In Focus’ pieces provide hyperlinks to source material highlighted and underlined in the text.

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CIVIL
-
MILITARY FUSION CENTRE
MEDITERRANEAN BASIN TEAM PRESENTS
 
IN FOCUS
 
The Syrian Port of Tartus
 
By Robin Michelle Barnett
 
This document provides the ‘In Focus’ excerpt from the MB Weekly
15
21 January
 
 2013
. The ‘In Focus’ section of the weekly gives our read-
ership a more detailed reporting of an event or topic of particular relevance in
the Mediterranean Basin and other regions of interest. ‘ 
In
Focus’ pieces provide hyperlinks to source material
highlighted and underlined in the text. For more information on the topics below or other issues pertaining to the region, please contact the members of the Med Basin Team, or visit our website atwww.cimicweb.org. 
Comprehensive Information on Complex Crises
 
 Humanitarian Crisis
 
In its largest appeal ever, the United Nations (UN)requested USD 1.5 billion in December 2012 to help the millions of Syrians suf- fering from what it called a “dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation”. Four million people in the country require urgenthumanitarian aid, including an estimatedtwo million displaced from their homes by sectarian violence. UN figures show the number  of registered Syrian refugees has leapt from 500,000 to nearly 600,000 in the past month. Deliveries of food aredelayed by insecuri-ty,and ships must now use the Lebanese port of Beirut instead of the Syrian Port of Tartus. “There are really no more safe areaswhere people can flee”, stated the UN Regional Coordinator for Syria, adding “The magnitude of this humanitarian crisis is undis- putable”. The World Food Program (WFP) used the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in the past however these efforts were beinghampered  by a “lack of capacity” as well as escalating violence between the government and rebels, stated WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin. As a result of the insecurity, the WFP has temporarily pulled its staff out of its offices in the Syrian cities of Homs,Aleppo, Tartus and Kurdish
-
run Qamishli. To add further complication, the lack of security has prevented WFP from delivering aid to Syria via the port of Tartus, a “key conduit.
 
However, on 16 January the WFP announced that theSyrian government would ease restrictions and allow WFP to expand its area of operations and work with 110 designated non
-
governmental organisations (NGOs) todistribute dire food assistance throughout the war 
-
torn country. WFP has selected 44 NGOs of the 110 permitted to work as implementing partners and carry out food distribu-tion, , thus enabling the WFP operation to feed upwards of one million people. At this time it is not known whether WFP and its 44 partners will be allowed to distribute food through the strategic Port of Tartus or whether the port will be restricted to Russian andSyrian military operations.
 Russia and its Vested Interest 
 
Russia has maintained its naval base atTartus since 1971.The base serves as a naval supply and maintenance facility and a winter  hub for its Black Sea fleet. At the end of the Cold War, Russia retained its leasing rights to the Syrian Port of Tartus by waivingnearly EUR 8 billion in Syrian debt to the Soviet Union. Since then, Russia has expanded its facilities to enable the docking of nucle-ar warships. The facility remains restricted to a small barracks (50 personnel onshore  plus 190 accommodated on floating platforms),  pier, fuel tanks and small support buildings.
 
The Syrian Port of Tartus is theonly Russian naval base in the Mediterranean and the only base existing outside of the Soviet Union; theSoviet
-
era naval base at Vietnam‟s Cam Ranh Bay and “a spy base in Lourdes in Cuba” were both closed in the early 2000s dur- ing President Vladimir Putin‟s first term. The port plays an important role in the resupply and refuelling of Russian naval vessels,
 Excerpted from22 January 2013 
 
The Civil-Military Fusion Centre (CFC) is an information and knowledge management organisation focused on improving civil-military interaction,facilitating information sharing and enhancing situational awareness through theCimicWeb portal and our weekly and monthly publications. CFC products link to and are based on open-source information from a wide variety of organisations, research centres and media sources. However, theCFC does not endorse and cannot necessarily guarantee the accuracy or objectivity of these sources.
CFC publications are independently produced by Desk Officers and do not reflect NATO policies or positions of any other organisation.
 
 
enabling an extended stay in the Mediterranean thus avoiding the long voyage back to the Black Sea Fleet‟s home base from leasedfacilities inUkraine.
1
 
According to theRussian Navy,the naval base in Syria significantly boosts Russia‟s operational capability in the region, as war- ships based from Tartus are capable of reaching the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar in a matter of days, reports the Moscow
-
 based
 RIA Novosti
news agency. “Tartus is the only site where Russian ships can dock for refuelling and repairs and allow their crews to rest a little”, said Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the Academy of Geo- political Problems. “Strictly speaking, theTartus station is not a naval base.We [Russia] only have a floating repair dock there. The  port is not equipped to be a base, but potential changes are possible. If we maintain our presence there, modernization will be need-ed.”While Tartus is acknowledged as a “small and limited facility” lacking permanent repair capabilities, the base does enable Russia toconduct repair and replenishment since the Russian fleet, unlike the US Navy, is unable to resupply at sea. Ruslan Aliev, the head of information at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) in Moscow, likewise asserted that Tartus is not adefinitive naval base; however, it doesenable force protection of Russian naval capabilities into the Mediterranean, potentially in- fluencing Europe and Middle East whilst giving more aggressive options through „gunboat diplomacy. Tartus is also the port through which Russia provides its lucrative arms shipments to Syria and has recently become more significant as a “counter to NATO‟s  ballistic missile defence system, which includes the integration of naval vessels which Russia may hope to underminethrough its own maritime capabilities in the Mediterranean”, according to Nordic Intel.
 
 Russian Naval Build 
-
up
 
On 20 January, the largest Russian war gamessince the Cold War  commenced in what has been described as a flexing of military muscle and underlining Russian interests in Syria and the Port of Tartus. Task forces from Russia‟s Black Sea, Northern and Balticfleets, strategic bombers, tactical aircraft, air defence units, paratroopers and navy are taking part in themanoeuvres in the Mediter-ranean and the Black Sea, according to the Russian defence ministry. Andrei Frolov, a naval expert at theMoscow military think 
-
tank CAST,said the drill may be intended to remind the West of Russia‟s links to Syria, where it has repeatedly argued against out-side intervention.According to
 RIA Novosti
, the exercise is in line with theRussian Armed Forces‟ 2013 combat training plan and will aim to “practice the issues of establishing a multiservice grouping of forces (troops) outside Russia, planning its use and conducting jointactions as part of a united naval grouping based on a common plan”. Further, naval exercises are not uncommon, particularly inlight of the latest Russianstrategic plan which calls for a 2016 “replenishment of the combat strength of the Russian Navy with eighteen surface warships of various ranks and designation, thirty special
-
 purpose and counter 
-
subversion vessels and a plan to putsix multi
-
 purpose and strategic submarines into operation”, according to the Russian defence ministry.Michael Weiss, co
-
chair of the London
-
 based foreign policy think tank Russian Studies Center believes that the presence of Russiannavy ships in Syria is serving three distinct and different purposes: “to run weapons and material into Syria, take Russian nationalsout of the country, and send a signal to the United States that it still backs Syrian President Bashar al
-
Assad”. Furthermore, the mili-tary build
-
up may also serve as a reminder that for Russia “remaining empty
-
handed in the developments in Syria isMoscow‟s redline, iterated by a member of the parliament‟s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and Russia Expert Mehdi Sa-nayee.
 
Many observers surmise that the Russian naval build
-
up and placement of three hundred marines on the Tartus base is simply a preparation to “set up asterile zone around the port to protect its facilities and rescue some of the 30,000 Russian nationals believed to be in Syria”. On 24 January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation in Syria was “causing utmost concern” but not enough to warrant a “mass evacuation of Russian citizens living there”. Although Russia did transport by air 77 of its citi-zens fleeing the violence to Moscow early 23 January, it did not signal the start of a broader evacuation. “Of course we have nointerest in the Mediterranean region becoming even more destabilised, and the presence of our fleet there is undoubtedly a stabilis-ing factor,” Lavrov said.
Chemical Weapons
 
According to Russia‟s foreign minister, as of 23 December, Syria had consolidated itschemical weapons into one of two locations from its usual places scattered across the country, reports CNN. “As of right now... the [Syrian] government is doing all it can tosafeguard those weapons
2
”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russia‟s
 RIA Novosti
news agency.
1
However recent reports have indicated that theFree Syrian Army (FSA) has all the components to produce chemical weapons and have the knowledge to put them to use. The media linked the announcement to Major 
-
General Adnan Sillu, a regime defector who formerly led the army‟s chemical weapons training programme.
2
On April 28, 2010, The Ukrainian parliament ratified an agreement to extend Russia‟s‟ lease of Crimean base facilities to 2042 with an option for five more years,through 2047.
 
22 January 2013
 
Page 2
 

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