Something big was going on at the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus in early March. Russian Spetsnaz (special operations) forces were suddenly jumping out to block ingress to the port. When Syrian troops and police went over to investigate, they were told by Russian officers that the port was off-limits and force would be used to keep them out.
Amid the hubbub, someone in Moscow, apparently on orders from President Vladimir Putin, decided to issue a statement. It claimed that on Jan 18, Russia and Syria had signed an agreement. The place of signing and signatories were not named. Its clauses are listed below.
The statement led to the following conclusions:
1. Russia has enhanced its role in Syria from military and political ally to overlord with full freedom of action.
2. Over the next five years, Russia will build a nuclear submarine base in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus to be completed by 2022.
3. This will be the last link in Putin’s comprehensive program for a chain of Russian air and sea bases running from the Baltic port of Kaliningrad through Sevastopol on the Black Sea up to Tartus. These bases will house Russian warships and submarines, air force bombers and fighter jets, advanced S-400 and S-300 air defense systems and Iskander-M ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
Europeans intelligence sources revealed this week that Iskander-M shelters had been completed at the Russian 152nd Guards Missile Brigade’s garrison at Kaliningrad.
Add to this, Egypt’s grant to Russia of military and air force facilities at its western Sidi Barrani air base, 95km from Libya and 240km from the Libyan Mediterranean port and oil terminal at Tobruk.
4. The presence of a Russian nuclear submarine base in the eastern Mediterranean would radically shift the regional balance of power. Even before it is constructed, it obliges the Americans and Israelis to fundamentally reassess their sea deployments – not least in consideration of Iran’s plans for a Mediterranean sea base of its own at Banias, 50km from Tartus.
The scenario unfolding on the Syrian coast is forbidding, especially if Moscow sticks to its military alliance with Iran in Syria and decides to launch an escalated cold war against America.
President Donald Trump is confronted with tough options. Can America overhaul and fortify its naval strength (the Sixth Fleet) in the Mediterranean while at the same time expanding and strengthening its naval might against Chinese expansion in the Pacific and South China Sea?
DEBKA Weekly lists the main clauses of the Russian-Syrian Tartus deal:
- When completed, the base will accommodate 11 warships including vessels equipped with nuclear marine propulsion, provided that nuclear and environmental safety guidelines are respected.
- Russia will bear the seaborne and airborne protection of the base, while Syria will be responsible for land security. Russia will be able to deploy temporary mobile outposts outside the base if coordinated with the Syrian side.
- Syria will not lodge objections to military activities on and by the base which will be outside Damascus’ jurisdiction.
- Syria pledges to resolve any conflicts that may arise if a third party objects to activities emanating from the base.
DEBKA Weekly: Moscow is shunting aside any international complaints that may arise from Russian activities at Tartus and referring these headaches to the Syrians, including any objections that might be raised by Washington.
- The agreement is valid for 49 years and will be automatically prolonged every 25 years unless one of the two states decides to withdraw.
- Russia is allowed to bring in and out any kind of weaponry, ammunition, devices and materials to provide security for the facility staff, crew and their families throughout the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic without paying duties or levies.