'No Russian military force at Syria's Tartus port'

'No Russian military force at Syria's Tartus port'
Thu Jun 27, 2013 20:07:44

Russia currently has no military personnel at its resupply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, a senior Russia diplomat says.

“Currently, there is no one in Syria from the Russian Defense Ministry,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Al-Hayat 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 said.

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 said in a Thursday statement that the center has been serviced exclusively by civilian staff “for a long time,” but stressed it had no plans to abandon the facility.

An unnamed military official was cited by Vedomosti business daily Wednesday as saying that the Russian leadership was worried about the safety of the facility’s personnel, given the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Any incident involving Russian servicemen in Syria could also have unwanted political repercussions, the source said. Moscow has been providing diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad against pressure from Western powers and the Persian Gulf kingdoms.

The Russian Navy currently has a flotilla of 16 warships and auxiliary ships in the Mediterranean, but no Russian ships have been called at Tartus in recent months, according to Russia’s General Staff.

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.

“[The pullout of military personnel] 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.

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