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Monday, September 15, 2008

Russians have started work on major Syrian port

MOSCOW — Syrian has signed an agreement meant to result in a major Russian naval presence in the Arab state.

Officials said the Russian Navy has already begun the upgrade of Tartous in an effort to establish a permanent presence in the Mediterranean Sea. They said the modernization of the Syrian naval facility was discussed during a Sept. 12 meeting in Moscow by the naval commanders of Russia and Syria.

"Tartous is of great geopolitical significance considering that it is the only such Russian facility abroad," former Russian Navy deputy commander Adm. Igor Kasatonov said.

From 1971 until 1992, Syria permitted the former Soviet Union to operate a naval maintenance facility at Tartous. Since then, Tartous has fallen into disrepair, and only one of three floating piers was said to remain operational, Middle East Newsline reported.

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The Russian government, in the first such arrangement, intends to upgrade the Syrian naval port of Tartous, used by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Moscow said Tartous would then be used by the Russian Navy's Black Sea fleet.

"It is much more advantageous to have such a facility than to return ships that patrol the Mediterranean to their home bases," former Black Sea Fleet commander Adm. Eduard Baltin said.

Libya has also been approached to permit the docking of Russian Navy ships deployed in the Mediterranean. Officials said this would require a Russian upgrade of Libyan port facilities.

Syria has sought to enhance military cooperation meant to pave the way for the purchase of advanced Russian weapons. Officials said Syrian President Bashar Assad used his visit to Moscow in August 2008 to request the S-300PMU1 air and missile defense system as well as the Iskander-E long-range rocket.

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