enabling an extended stay in the Mediterranean thus avoiding the long voyage back to the Black Sea Fleet‟s home base from leasedfacilities inUkraine.
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
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
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
, 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.
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
”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russia‟s
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.
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