After claiming the Pole, Russia looks south (to the Mediterranean Sea)

Satellite image of Syrian Naval Base at Tartus showing landing crafts and fast missile boats

Russia stirred memories of the Cold War yesterday when the country's senior admiral called for the establishment of a permanent naval base in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Soviet era. Coming a day after an audacious mission to the North Pole to bolster Russia's territorial claims in the Arctic, Moscow's renewed naval ambitions are likely to spread further unease in Nato capitals. "The Mediterranean Sea is very important strategically," Admiral Vladimir Masorin said on a tour of the Russian navy's Black Sea base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. "I propose that, with the involvement of the Northern and Baltic Fleets, the Russian navy should restore its permanent presence there."

His remarks raise doubts about the Kremlin's denial last year of a newspaper claim that new moorings were being built in the Syrian port of Tartus. Michael McDowell alights from the Mir-2 minisub after performing a record dive at the North Pole. According to Ivan Safronov, the journalist who died after mysteriously falling from a building in Moscow this year, Russia had also begun to expand the port at Latakia, also in Syria. President Vladimir Putin has been anxious to restore Moscow's influence in the Middle East, signing controversial arms deals with both Syria and Iran that have upset the United States and Israel. If the port plan were to go ahead, Russian vessels and warships from the US Sixth Fleet, based in Italy, would face one another in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Cold War when the Soviet navy was based in Tartus. Russia maintains a symbolic and largely empty logistical facility at Tartus - its only military base outside the former Soviet Union.

Washington will be watching both developments with concern. Yesterday it bluntly warned Moscow that any attempt to claim sovereignty over the Arctic would not be tolerated after Russia planted its national flag under the North Pole on Thursday. "I'm not sure whether they've put a metal flag, a rubber flag or a bed sheet on the ocean floor," said Tom Casey, a spokesman for the State Department. "Either way it doesn't have any legal standing."

In a record-breaking expedition led by Artur Chilingarov, a veteran polar explorer, two deep-sea submersibles descended 14,000 feet. More used to submarine disasters than unprecedented maritime feats, the successful operation was greeted with jubilation in Russia where it stirred up memories of derring do from the golden era of Soviet naval exploration. Like other countries with Arctic coastlines, Russia has laid claims for greater territory in the oil-rich area and will present its case to a UN commission in 2010. Information appearing on is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence.


Russia building naval base in Syria - report

Vera Yadidya Russian magazine Kommersant reported Friday that the Russian army is laying the groundwork for building the Syrian port of Tartus, in the north of the country. Russia maintained a base in the port since the days of the Soviet Union, the report said, adding that Moscow could be planning to turn the port into a naval base where ships withdrawn from Sevastopol in Ukraine can anchor. Vladimir Zimin, a senior economic advisor at the Russian Embassy in Damascus, confirmed the plans to the magazine. The move was said to be part of Russia's effort to boost its influence in the Middle East and safeguard Syria. ”As an official at Russian naval headquarters explained, the creation in Tartus of a fully fledged naval base should help Russia redeploy the naval and supply ships leaving Sevastopol,” Kommersant said. Russian military engineers will install an air defense system with S-300PMU-2 Favorit ballistic missiles at the port to protect Russian naval ships, the magazine reported. ”For the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia will create its own military base outside former Soviet borders, which will allow Moscow to conduct its own political game in the Middle East,” the newspaper added. The Russian Defense Ministry categorically denied the report, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported. "This is an absolutely false report that has no foundation whatsoever," Defense Ministry spokesperson Vyacheslav Sedov told Novosti. Russia has also agreed to upgrade Syria's aerial defense systems, which Moscow supplied in 2005, and its fleet of 1,000 T-72 tanks. Syria is also trying to convince Moscow to sell it two submarines and to upgrade its fleet of MiG 29 fighter jets, the magazine added.


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