Rus­sia to push navy be­yond Black Sea

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David R. Sands

Hav­ing just staked a claim to the North Pole, Rus­sia is now eye­ing the Mediter­ranean.

With Moscow’s cof­fers re­plen­ished by the global oil boom, Adm. Vladimir Ma­sorin, Rus­sia’s naval com­man­der, has an­nounced am­bi­tious plans to ex­pand the coun­try’s pri­mary Black Sea base and es­tab­lish a “per­ma­nent pres­ence” in the east­ern Mediter­ranean for the first time since the Cold War.

“The Mediter­ranean is very im­por­tant strate­gi­cally for the Black Sea Fleet,” the ad­mi­ral told re­porters Aug. 3 on a visit to the Rus­sian base at Sev­astopol.

“I pro­pose that, with the in­volve­ment of the North­ern and Baltic fleets, the Rus­sian navy should re­store its per­ma­nent pres­ence there,” the ad­mi­ral said.

The re­build­ing of the Rus­sian navy and its bases on the Baltic and Black seas, dev­as­tated with the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, has been a pet project of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The ad­mi­ral vis­ited Sev­astopol just days af­ter a Rus­sian mini-sub planted a flag on the ocean floor be­neath the North Pole in a bid to strengthen Moscow’s dis­puted claims to the min­eral-rich seabed.

Ariel Co­hen, a Rus­sian se­cu­rity an­a­lyst at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said the Arc­tic and Black Sea moves re­flect the Krem­lin’s grow­ing con­fi­dence and will­ing­ness to project power.

“Rus­sia is flush with cash and is look­ing for ar­eas to boost its geopo­lit­i­cal mus­cle,” Mr. Co­hen said. “That has trans­lated into am­bi­tious strate­gic pro­grams, whether it’s in the Black Sea or grab­bing a piece of the Arc­tic con­ti­nen­tal shelf the size of West­ern Europe.”

Rus­sian naval of­fi­cials plan a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of the Black Sea naval base at Novorossiysk to off­set the ex­pected loss of the Sev­astopol base when a leas­ing deal with Ukraine ex­pires in 2017. Rus­sian en­gi­neers have been build­ing new piers, bar­racks and port fa­cil­i­ties at Novorossiysk.

Adm. Ma­sorin out­lined a ma­jor shift of as­sets to the Rus­sian port, in­clud­ing land­ing ships, minesweep­ers, at least a dozen sub­marines and reg­u­lar vis­its of the Kuznet­zov — the coun­try’s only air­craft car­rier — to the Black Sea.

The ad­mi­ral’s com­ments on the Mediter­ranean have added fuel to spec­u­la­tion that Rus­sia also is con­sid­er­ing the cre­ation of a per­ma­nent, full-ser­vice naval base in the Syr­ian coastal town of Tar­tus, on the east­ern edge of the Mediter­ranean.

The Krem­lin has de­nied any plans for the Syr­ian site, a sup­ply and main­te­nance base for the Soviet navy dur­ing the Cold War and still the site of the only Rus­sian base out­side the con­fines of the old Soviet Union.

But Rus­sian en­gi­neers have been in­volved in dredg­ing the wa­ters around both Tar­tus and Latakia, a sec­ond Syr­ian coastal town.

A de­tailed June 2 re­port in the Rus­sian news­pa­per Kom­m­er­sant, cit­ing Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry sources, said Tar­tus and Latakia were be­ing con­sid­ered as al­ter­na­tives af­ter the loom­ing loss of Sev­astopol.

Adm. Ma­sorin did not men­tion Syria on his trip two weeks ago, and Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have strongly de­nied the Kom­m­er­sant re­port.

A per­ma­nent Rus­sian base in Syria would un­nerve both the United States and Is­rael, and would be close to the strate­gic Turk­ish port of Cey­han, the ter­mi­nus of a ma­jor new oil pipe­line linked to the Azer­bai­jani port city of Baku.

Wash­ing­ton has clashed re­peat­edly with Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad over Iraq, Le­banon and other Mid­dle East­ern hot spots.

But Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary has long­stand­ing links to its Syr­ian coun­ter­part, dat­ing back to the Cold War. About 2,000 Rus­sian ad­vis­ers re­port­edly are serv­ing as train­ers and ad­vis­ers to the Syr­ian armed forces.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Think­ing big: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has longed to re­build Rus­sian naval bases on the Baltic and Black seas.

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