The Russian parliament has approved a deal to expand a Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted on Thursday in favor of a deal to extend the lease of the Mediterranean base in Tartus for 49 years and to expand and modernize the facility used by the Russian Navy.
Under the deal, a maximum of 11 Russian warships, including nuclear-powered vessels, can be present at the naval base at any given time and the Russian navy will also be granted access to territorial waters and various ports in Syria.
“The agreement allows the expansion of the naval facility to 24 hectares free of charge,” said Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov on presenting the deal to the State Duma.
According to Russia’s TASS state news agency, the duration of the deal can be automatically prolonged for another 25 years “in case none of the parties sends a written notification to the other at least one year before the period expires notifying about its plans to terminate the agreement.”
“Syria will be responsible for the protection of the naval facility, while Russia will ensure the security of the maritime borders and missile security,” Tass said.
The deal, struck with Syria in January, had been submitted to the lower house of the Russian parliament by President Vladimir Putin on December 13.
“The ratification of the agreement is of strategic importance,” said Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs. “The presence of a Russian naval facility on Syria’s territory is totally in line with the objectives of ensuring regional peace and stability; it is purely defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”
Putin ordered Russian forces to begin withdrawing from Syria during a surprise visit to the war-ravaged country last week.
The Russian president stressed that Moscow would keep the Hmeimim air base in Latakia as well as Russia’s naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus.
Since September 2015, Moscow has been carrying out an aerial bombardment campaign against the positions of extremist militants in Syria on an official request from the Damascus government.
President Putin’s decision on the troop withdrawal came a few days after he declared a “complete victory” over Daesh in Syria.