MOSCOW Russia intends to establish a permanent naval base on the site of an existing facility it leases at the Syrian port of Tartus, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov said on Monday, Russian news agencies reported.
Pankov's statement is the latest sign that Moscow wants to expand its military footprint in Syria where it has been helping President Bashar al-Assad fight rebels since 2015. Moscow last week deployed S-300 surface-to air missiles to Tartus.
"We will have a permanent naval base at Tartus," Pankov told Russian senators. "The necessary documents are already prepared and are in the process of being approved by different agencies. We hope we can ask you to ratify these documents soon."
Senator Igor Morozov told the RIA news agency that the decision would allow Russia to operate more ships in the Mediterranean as they would have an enhanced facility at which they could refuel and resupply.
"By doing this Russia is not only increasing its military potential in Syria but in the entire Middle East and in the Mediterranean region as a whole," said Morozov.
Russia already has a permanent air base at Hmeymim in Syria's Latakia province from which it launches air strikes against anti-Assad rebels.
Moscow inherited a Soviet-era naval facility at Tartus when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian navy's sole foothold in the Mediterranean. Despite some modernisation, it is currently fairly modest and unable to accommodate larger warships.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn/Alexander Winning; Editing by Christian Lowe)