Russian Diggers Expand Tartus for Large Fleet of Carrier and Missile Cruisers
Giant floating diggers are hard at work 24/7 on a gigantic project to expand the Russian naval facilities at Tartus – on lease from Syria – to accommodate their largest warships.
Making two 100m floating piers inside the northern breakwater operational and other improvements will outfit Tartus for hosting big Russian warships ranging in length from a 129m Neustrashimyy-class frigate through a 163m Udaloy-class destroyer – and include the 186m, long Slava-class and 252m Kirov-class cruisers and the only Russian aircraft carrier, the 305m Admiral Kuznetzov.
This project, say DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, will transform Tartus on the Syrian Mediterranean coast into Russia’s main anchorage for Moskva, its largest anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-submarine missile cruiser, as well as the Kuznetzov.
The expansion, in which hundreds of millions of dollars are sunk, is scheduled for completion before December. Extensive changes are underway: anchorages are being deepened, new piers constructed and technical support facilities built for the logistical maintenance of the Russian Mediterranean fleet, including refueling stores and pumps. Shipbuilding workshops will handle repairs and armament to save Russian warships from having to sail home for these services.
The huge Russian naval project in Tartus has far-reaching strategic and political significance for this part of the world:
1. The transformation of the Syrian port into an alternative home base for their navy shows the Russians are there to stay.
2. Along with the steady drawdown of US Sixth Fleet vessels, Moscow’s expanded fleet presence will make Russia the strongest naval power in the Mediterranean.
3. It will also shift Moscow’s naval center of gravity for big warships from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
4. The connection between the Russian Hmeimim Air Base southeast of Latakia and refurbished Tartus will effectively rope off a 74km stretch of Syria’s western coast for unchallenged Russian military, air force and naval control.
There are plans to add more military bases as extra underpinning for the Russian bastion on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
5. When the Kuznetsov with its 41 bombers and fighters anchors at the renovated port of Tartus, the Kremlin intends a further reduction of the number of aircraft maintained at Hmeimim.
Already, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report, Russian warplanes are heading out of the Syrian war arena – contrary to the false impression conveyed by the heavy bombardments over Aleppo in the past week. Of the 120 Russian warplanes sent to Syria early 2016, only 50 remain. The rest have returned home to Russia.
6. Moscow’s immediate objective in Syria for now is to enable Bashar Assad to fully recover Aleppo and drive the rebel forces controlling parts of the city northward to the Turkish border. After that is achieved, Moscow will focus fully on building up its Tartus-Latakia stronghold.
But amid this drive, Vladimir Putin appears to be carefully weighing every step to make sure his military is not dragged headlong into the Syrian quagmire.