Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says the country has begun establishing a permanent presence in its two military bases in Syria.
Shoigu said Tuesday that works had already begun to expand Russia’s military presence in Syria’s Tartus, a naval base, and Hmeimim, an air base.
“Last week the Commander-in-Chief (President Vladimir Putin) approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim. We have begun forming a permanent presence there,” said Shoigu.
The announcement came as Russian parliament was discussing a deal with Damascus to boost Russia’s military involvement in Syria.
According to the deal signed on January 18, Syria has agreed to grant Russian warships access to Syrian waters and ports. Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house security and defense committee, said Tuesday that Moscow will also be allowed under the deal to expand Tartus, a small naval facility on the Mediterranean which has been in use since the days of the Soviet Union.
As part of the deal, which will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further, Russia will be allowed to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels.
Russia’s air force can also use the Hmeimim air base indefinitely. The base, located in northwest Syria in Latakia province, was used repeatedly by Russian fighter jets over the past two years to help Syria’s fight against terror.
The expanding military cooperation between Russia and Syria comes against the backdrop of a successful partnership in the fight against terror. Russia began its involvement in Syria in September 2015, when Damascus submitted an official request.
Relying on the assistance, Syria has managed to liberate large swathes of lands from the grip of terrorists, including Aleppo, Syria’s largest in the north, which was recaptured last years, and Dayr al-Zawr, a main bastion of the Daesh Takfiri terrorists in the east of the country.