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June 02, 2006
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The Syrian Stake
// Russia takes its main Middle East ally under its wing
Russia is dredging the Syrian port of Tartus, where a maintenance station for the Russian Navy is located. That station has been there since Soviet times. Kommersant learned of this work from Vladimir Zimin, senior economic advisor at the Russian embassy in Syria. Russia is also widening the port at Latakia. That may be evidence that Russia is considering Syria as a base from which to expand its influence in the Middle East. In that case, the maintenance station at Tartus may be converted into a naval base in the future for Black Sea Fleet warships when they are withdrawn from Sevastopol.
The Russian Defense Ministry and Navy General Headquarters are not officially commenting on the developments in Syria, but a Defense Ministry source who wished to remain anonymous confirmed those plans for Kommersant. The source said that Moscow wants to form a squadron of ships led by the missile cruiser Moskva that will be a permanent presence in the Mediterranean Sea and take part in naval antiterrorist exercises with NATO members. Thus the facilities being developed in Syria may be needed for the Black Sea Fleet and the Northern Fleet, if necessary, for reinforcement. So far, Moscow has only announced the construction of two bases for the Black Sea Fleet near Novorossiisk.

The source in the Defense Ministry noted that the facilities in Syria would allow Russia to expand its influence in the Middle East and to guarantee Syria's security. Russia plans to install an air defense system with S-300PMU-2 Favorit ballistic missiles to be operated by Russians, not Syrians, for the defense of its base. Those missiles will also provide cover for a significant part of Syria.

Kommersant has also obtained information that Russia has reached an agreement with the Syrian government on the modernization of that country's S-125 medium-range missile, which it bought from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and the Syrian government has expressed interest in buying new Pantsir-S1 missiles, which Russia will make available to all comers after the missile has undergone testing and the first lot is delivered to the army of the United Arab Emirates, which contracted for the new model. The only modern missiles in Syria's arsenal right now are short-range Strelets missiles that it obtained from Russia last year.
Ivan Safronov

All the Article in Russian as of June 02, 2006

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