MOSCOW, July 26 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s navy chief said on Thursday that a flotilla of Russian warships off the coast of Syria would not dock at a port leased by Moscow in the violence-stricken Middle East country.
“The joint fleet flotilla will not enter the port of Tartus,” Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told journalists. “It is carrying out military drills in the Mediterranean.”
The flotilla is comprised of 10 warships, plus escort vessels. Chirkov also said the flotilla was carrying marines.
The navy said earlier this month that the deployment of the powerful task force was not linked to the current crisis in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed in an almost 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The Western Syria port of Tartus is Russia’s only foreign naval base outside the former Soviet Union. But Russian analysts have consistently played down the port’s strategic importance, saying it is in reality little more than a refueling stop.
But Chirkov said on Thursday that Russia had no intention of giving up the base. He did not however give further details or clarify how Russia would hold onto the base in the event of a pro-Western government coming to power in Syria.
Russia – along with China – has vetoed three resolutions against the Assad regime over what it says is a pro-rebel bias. Moscow insists it has no special interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but that the “Syrian people” must decide his fate.
President Vladimir Putin vowed in a pre-election campaign article earlier this year not to allow in Syria a repeat of last year’s “Libya scenario," which saw the ouster and murder of long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after a NATO military campaign.