Friday, 27 July 2012

Russia to keep Syrian naval base to fight off pirates

Russia is going to stay at its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, the country’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, told journalists on Thursday. Moscow has been leasing the Tartus base since 1971, but today the plan is to use it not for military purposes. “The joint fleet flotilla will not enter the port of Tartus adding that the base is needed to carry out an anti-pirate mission. Representatives of the Syrian National Council, a coalition of opposition forces who have been fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, have been strongly opposed to Russia’s warships entering the port. Earlier, media reports suggested the Tartus base had been used to deliver Russian armaments to the Middle Eastern state, where about 12,000 people have been killed in an ongoing conflict between the authorities and the opposition, according to UN estimates. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed in June that Russia was going to ship repaired helicopters to Assad, its long-term ally in the Middle East. He denied any shipments of modern weapons, however. Today, experts say that Tartus is just a small center for servicing vessels, the BBC’s Russian service reported. Russia, however, is not going to leave its last military base outside the territory of the former Soviet Union, Chirkov said. “We needed it to service our ships and vessels, in particular, during an anti-pirate mission in the Gulf of Aden,” the navy chief said. The military flotilla – comprised of 10 warships and escort vessels, according to Chirkov – will be “carrying out military drills in the Mediterranean,”

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