Murphy's Law: Why Tiny Tartus Is No Threat

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August 9, 2012: Over the last few years Russia has been trying to refurbish its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. Established in the early 1970s, it was never much more than a fenced off portion of the waterfront, where one pier, and some floating piers brought in by Russia, along with a repair ship or two, took care of maintenance needs of Russian warships (and spy ships) in the Mediterranean during the last two decades of the Cold War. In the 1990s, the Russian facility in Tartus fell on hard times. For most of that decade there were only a few caretakers and few visits from Russian ships of any sort. Three years ago Russia announced that its Tartus facility would be refurbished to support Russian ships on anti-piracy duty off Somalia. The Tartus piers would be repaired and made longer. Currently the few working piers can only hand ships under 100 meters (310 feet) long. During the Cold War the Russian Navy had a lot of small ships like that, but now most major Russian warships are much longer.

The Russian Navy has been maintaining a naval patrol off the Syrian coast for over a year now, since the Syrian rebellion began. This is in addition to several more warships from the U.S. and West European states. For some of that time several hundred personnel were working on Russian facilities at Tartus and Russia continued to deliver weapons and military equipment to Syria. But as the rebellion became more violent, the Russian construction effort slowed down and stopped. For a while Russia was rumored to be sending several hundred marines to increase security around the Russian facilities in Tartus. That never happened.

At present the Russians have four permanent watchmen at Tartus and fifty ship maintenance personnel on a repair and support ship. Apparently the Russians are waiting for the rebellion to conclude before they invest any more money and effort into upgrading their Tartus facilities.

 


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