Russian Navy Pulls Personnel Out of Syria Base
(RIA Novosti)- Russia currently has no military personnel at its resupply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, a senior diplomat said, though an expert affiliated with the Ministry of Defense downplayed it as a possible temporary measure.
“Currently, there is no one in Syria from the Russian Defense Ministry,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Al-Hayat international pan-Arabic newspaper.
“We never, at any time, had a real military base in Tartus… That center has no military or strategic significance. It never did and it doesn't now,” Bogdanov added, speaking in an interview that was first published last Friday in Arabic.
The naval maintenance center in Tartus, established in Soviet times, remains Russia’s last military foothold outside the former Soviet Union. The facility, used for the maintenance and resupply of Russian warships in the Mediterranean, had a staff of “several dozen,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in February.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on Bogdanov’s statement. Spokespeople for the ministry and the Russian Navy could not be reached for comment Thursday.
An unnamed military official confirmed the story to Vedomosti business daily on Wednesday, saying that the Russian leadership was worried about the safety of the facility’s personnel, given the ongoing civil war in Syria. More than 90,000 people have been killed in the country since fighting broke out between government forces and rebels in March 2011, according to the latest UN figures.
Any incident involving Russian servicemen in Syria could also have unwanted political repercussions, the source said. Moscow has been providing diplomatic backing to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad against pressure from Western powers and Gulf kingdoms.
The facility in Tartus only sees use on rare occasions when Russian warships call there, said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense monthly Russian-language magazine and head of the Defense Ministry’s public council.
“I cannot confirm the pullout, but it probably means that there are simply no current plans to use the base in Tartus,” he told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
“They’ll likely redeploy when it’s needed. It’s just a technicality,” Korotchenko said.