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Sep. 24, 2008
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Tartus Too Small for Pyotr Velikiy
// Pyotr Velikiy won’t be able to enter Syria
The realization of the plan to transform the post of material and technical provision in Tartus into a comprehensive naval base has been put off for an uncertain term. Israel’s military intelligence has recently denied Russian military’s statement that there are already ten Black Sea Fleet ships in Tartus. Kommersant sources with Russia’s Defense Ministry said that battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, which has set off for Venezuela, simply won’t be able to enter the port of Tartus – it has not been prepared to accommodate such ships.
The Russian Northern Fleet’s ships, which set off for Venezuela on Monday, will soon be accompanied by another vessel. Battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, anti-submarine carrier Admiral Chabanenko and two consorts will be joined by patrol ship Fearless of the Baltic Fleet. According to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, the ships will visit over 25 countries, “It took the Fleet more than a year to prepare for the cruise.” Russian media were prompt to report that before reaching the Caribbean Sea, the flotilla will travel through the Mediterranean Sea, namely, the Syrian port of Tartus. Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo neither confirmed nor denied this information replying ironically to AFP, “Next time they will tell you we are going to Australia.”

However, Syria was surprised to hear the news that Russian military vessels are moving in the Tartus direction. According to Kommersant sources with the country’s government, they learnt about the forthcoming visit from the media too. Yesterday the Syrian interlocutors of Kommersant knew nothing about the Russian flag appearing in the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, the source of Kommersant noted that Damask will certainly endorse such a format of military cooperation with Russia, but so far he does not anything about plans of that kind.

A source of Kommersant with the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that entering the Mediterranean Sea is part of the cruise plan, adding, however, “Pyotr Velikiy’s entering Tartus is out of the question because the port is not comfortable for the ship. It will be in close proximity. We are now working on the issue.” It is yet unclear which ship - Admiral Chabanenko or Fearless - may enter Tartus.

The lack of coordination points to the fact that the Russian ship’s cruise has propaganda aims mainly, and its preparation might have been fostered at the last moment. Anyway, Russia’s three most decent ships could not help entering Syria. “Syria is our crucial and the only ally in the Middle East, so the Russian large vessels’ entering Tartus with a friendly visit appears logical. The demonstration of the Russian flag is to boost Russia’s authority and strengthen its positions in the region,” Konstantin Makienko of the Center for Strategic and Technical Analysis told Kommersant.

For all that, the information that Syria may turn into a place of Russian ships’ permanent stationing has a long history. Back 2006 the first messages appeared that Russia was going to transform the post of material and technical provision in Tartus into a comprehensive naval base. At that time the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the Black Sea ships will be able to be deployed at the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia in case they are forced to leave Sevastopol. To this end, much work was to be done: dredging and repairing the moorings, which haven’t been used since the Soviet times. Tartus began to be mentioned in Russian military’s ambitious statements. After Russia dismantled its radio-electronic intelligence center in Cuba and the post of material and technical provision of the Russian Navy in Vietnam at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Tartus became the last stronghold of the Russian military in the non-CIS countries. It was recollected whenever it was necessary to demonstrate that Russia was building up its military potential.

A year ago Vladimir Masorin, the then commander of the Russian Navy, made the point an idea to resume Russia’s permanent presence in the Mediterranean Sea. This statement really worried Israel. The Israeli intelligence said that if Russian ships are based in Tartus and Latakia, the towns will turn into well-equiped centers of radio-electronic intelligence, which will be able to control Israel as well as other countries of the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Israeli government has not expressed deep concerns since that time because they saw no Russian activity in Tartus.

A month ago ahead of his visit to Sochi Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in his interview with Kommersant that Damask does not mind transforming Damask into the Russian Navy’s base in the Mediterranean Sea, stressing that it is beneficial to his country. But, according to him, there were no concrete agreements regarding that matter at that time. Moreover, the port of Tartus needs reconstruction because it is not suited to accommodate Russian military vessels.

As the confrontation between Russia and the West developed after the war in Georgia, Russia’s military began using the Tartus factor more actively. For example, on September 12 commanders of the Russian and Syrian Navies Vladimir Vysotsky and Taleb al-Barri conducted negotiations in Moscow discussing the military cooperation outlook, in particular, developing the post of material and technical provision in Tartus. On September 15 rear admiral Andrei Baranov of the Black Sea fleet stated that there are ten Russian ships in the Syrian port. This statement astonished the Israeli military intelligence. The Debka web-site, which has close ties with Israel’s secret services, was quick to report that officers with the Israeli defense army denied that information claiming they knew nothing about such maneuvers of Russian ships near the Syrian coastal line. A source of Kommersant with the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the Israeli statement adding that the information about ten vessels is incorrect because you simply cannot station ships there – the dredging, which was discussed long ago, hasn’t been started yet. Besides, the port of Tartus is now only one mooring able to accommodate ships. The two other moorings require reconstruction.

However, the Israeli intelligence accused Russia of sharing its intelligence data it collects in Israel. Damask, in its turn, shares the information with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Israeli army’s spokesperson Ram Dor said in his interview with the Ediot Ahronot paper. Israel’s media have already called the strengthening of military links between Russia and Syria an outcome of the recent war in Georgia. For example, Russia is said to void confrontation with Europe boosting its anti-Western position on all other fronts, including the Middle East. Russia may even lose its status of the Quartet on the Middle East member. Also, Moscow will never be able to host a conference on the Middle East, which has been Russia’s strong desire. For all that, Israel’s military haven’t expressed concerns over the Russian ships appearing near Syria.

Russian Navy to counter Somalia’s pirates

Vladimir Vysotsky, the commander of the Russian Navy, stated yesterday that Russia will join international efforts to counter marine pirates in the zone adjacent to Somalia’s coast. “Russian ships won’t participate in international operations, they will do the task themselves,” the admiral emphasized. Later the Navy’s press service specified that the Navy has the right to act on its own in case Russians’ lives are jeopardized, Interfax reported.
Mikhail Zygar, Alexandra Gritskova

All the Article in Russian as of Sep. 24, 2008

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