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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Russian navy eyes Tartous, Syria as base for Black Sea Fleet

MOSCOW — On Jan. 12, a task force from the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet arrived in Tartous, Syria from Turkey, which hosted a naval exercise with Moscow.

Russian officials said the navy plans to modernize Tartous over the next few years. They said Tartous, designed to accommodate up to a dozen warships, could become the base for the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet.

The Russian Navy has been sending a range of vessels to Syrian ports as part of maneuvers and visits in the Mediterranean, and the navy has been operating a maintenance site near Tartous.

Syria has been regarded as one of Russia's leading military allies in the Middle East.

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Officials said the task force was led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

Russian Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the task force that arrived in Syria also included the Admiral Levchenko destroyer and the Nikolay Chiker salvage tug. Dygalo said the vessels would be serviced and supplied in Tartous.

Tartous has the only Russian Navy maintenance facility in the Mediterranean, constructed in the 1980s. The facility includes a staff of 50 naval officers and three floating piers. Moscow has sought to construct similar facilities in Algeria and Libya.

Moscow has also been expanding the Syrian port at Latakia. Officials said the Russian Navy was constructing a pier to accommodate large warships.

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