The Obama administration’s policy failures in the Middle East have left a void which Russia plans to fill by establishing a new naval base in Syria and re-activating an air base in Egypt.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Monday that it plans to convert its naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus into a full-fledged military base. A source within the ministry told Russia’s Izvestia newspaper that it is currently in talks with Egypt to re-establish an old Soviet air base in the Egyptian city of Sidi Barrani. Both announcements follow a failed ceasefire in Syria brokered between the U.S. and Russia in September, which has led to a deterioration in relations.
“In Syria we will have a permanent naval base in Tartus,” said Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov, quoted by Russian news agencies. He did not provide a timeline as to when the upgrade would be completed.
The former Soviet Union operated an air base in Sidi Barrani until its collapse in the early 1990s. Re-establishing the base would drastically improve Russia’s air operations in the Middle East and North Africa. If all goes to plan, the air base should be operational by 2019, according to the source.
Russia currently operates a naval facility at Tartus, which has limited capabilities. Establishing a full naval base in Tartus and starting up the old Soviet air base in Egypt would double Russia’s bases in the region.
Secretary of State John Kerry cut off future ceasefire talks with Russia as a result of the failed ceasefire. Russia has been blamed for an attack on a United Nations aid convoy shortly after the ceasefire fell apart. Both Assad and Russia stepped up their bombing campaigns as a result of the failed diplomacy, including attacks on civilian hospitals and aid organizations. Russia also installed new S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries in Syria last week. A report released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights in September found that Russian strikes have killed more civilians in Syria than the Islamic State.
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