|Tartus, Syria (October 25, 2014)|
(credit: Google Earth)
On October 10 of last year, RF Deputy Minister of Defense Nikolay Pankov stated that documents had been prepared for establishing a "naval base, on a permanent basis, in Tartus." On December 23, RF President Putin signed Directive 424-rp, ordering the Ministry of Defense to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in coordinating and signing an agreement with Syria on expanding the existing RF naval logistics support facility in Tartus. That agreement, which was signed in Damascus on January 18, allows Russia to expand the facility and remain there until at least 2066. But missing from Putin's directive and the final agreement is the term "naval base."
"The Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on Expansion of the Territory of the Russian Federation Navy Logistics Support Facility in the Port of Tartus and Entry of Russian Federation Military Ships into the Territorial Sea, Internal Waters and Ports of the Syrian Arab Republic" has several interesting provisions:
- Article 2 states that Syria concurs with Russia with regards to the "development and modernization of [the facility's] infrastructure for conducting repairs, resupply, and crew rest."
- Article 5 permits "the simultaneous presence of 11 ships, including ships with nuclear power plants, at the facility."
- Article 6 covers the port entry/departure notification process. At least 12 hours notice is required for ships to enter Tartus; if operationally necessary, 6 hours notice is authorized. For departures, 3 hours notice (1 hour if operationally necessary) is required.
- Article 7 specifies some of the work RF can undertake (using its own funds) at the facility: capital repairs; installation of floating piers; dredging work; the catch-all "placement of necessary equipment to support the operations of RF military ships within the territory and water space of the logistics support facility"; use of required communications resources; conducting underwater work and permitting divers to dive from RF military ships.
- Article 16 states that contents of annexes to this agreement may not be shared with a third party without prior written concurrence. Additionally, both sides "will refrain from official publication of annexes to this Agreement."
- Article 17 indicates that if Syria requests, RF may (a) provide "maritime surface and underwater, airborne, and weather status reports for the Mediterranean Sea"; (b) "provide hydrographic support in the territorial sea, internal waters and ports of the Syrian Arab Republic"; (c) "provide support in organizing and conducting anti-swimmer support in the water space of the port of Tartus"; (d) "provide support in organizing and conducting search and rescue support in the territorial sea and internal waters of the Syrian Arab Republic"; (e) "provide support in organizing and conducting air defense of the port of Tartus"; (f) send RF representatives to provide support in restoring the technical readiness of Syria's military ships.
- Article 25 specifies that this agreement is valid for 49 years and will automatically extend for 25-year periods unless one of the parties - within one year of the agreement's expiration - informs the other party of its intention to withdraw from the agreement.
As any annexes to the agreement will remain confidential (Article 16), it is difficult to fully assess the extent to which the facility will be expanded. For example, the specifics of infrastructure upgrades supporting ship repairs (Article 2) are not stated, but could include a number of options, such as the basing of a floating dry dock at the facility. Such a move would require additional waterfront space and/or upgrades to the existing territory.
But why there is no mention of a naval base in the agreement?
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta reporter Vladimir Mukhin, Iran has expressed concerns about the increased role of Russia in the Middle East, Russia and Turkey teaming up to settle the Syrian conflict, and Russia's intent to work with the U.S. and other countries as part of a coalition. Reading between the lines, Iran's concerns could have led to a change in the wording of the agreement - from the establishment of a naval base to a simpler, friendlier expansion of the existing logistics support facility.