Russian Military Bases Abroad: How Many and Where?
Unconfirmed reports suggesting that Russia plans to expand its presence in Syria, and rumors regarding a possible airbase in Belarus, have been swirling around in the Russian and Western media in recent months. How much truth is there in these rumors, and where is Russia’s military power abroad really concentrated?
Earlier this month, gossipmongers began suggesting, citing reports from a London-based NGO, that Russia has plans to expand its presence in Syria via a second airbase. The Kremlin was quick to quash the rumors, but they continue to circulate.
Also in recent months, NATO has been speculating on Russia’s potential to build a new airbase in neighboring Belarus, a rumor which lost steam earlier this week when Russian and Belarusian officials announced that the issue was undecided, and ‘may not be discussed anymore’.
But enough unfounded rumors on possible bases. What bases abroad does Russia already have today, and where are they located?
Russia’s military facilities abroad, Gazeta.ru explains, are located overwhelmingly on the territory of the former USSR. “They are, for the most part, airbases, air defense and missile defense systems, and space monitoring systems,” the online newspaper notes.According to the Defense Ministry, the total area of such objects is more than 700 thousand hectares, including waters in Lake Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake.
After the Crimean referendum last year which returned the peninsula to Russia, the Russian Armed Forces gained control of all objects servicing the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Moreover, the military reacquired the ‘Dnepr’ radar station in Sevastopol (which will come back online next year following modernization), and the ‘Pluton’ deep space communications and planetary radar system in Yevpatoria, Crimea (also being modernized, and also to be put back online, operating Russian satellites, in 2016).
Abroad, Russian military objects, not all of them having the status of military bases, are located in countries including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Syria and Vietnam, and the Georgian and Moldovan breakaways of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria.
The Russian base abroad gathering the most attention today, Gazeta.ru recalls, is the Hmeymim airbase, located in Syria’s northwestern province of Latakia. The base houses the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces contingent charged with smashing jihadist terrorists in Syria. “Legally,” the paper notes, “the base does not belong to Russia, but it is being actively used by the Russian military.” 600 Russian naval infantry guard the base.
Syria is also home to the Russian-leased basing, repair and logistics installation at Tartus. The only Russian Navy logistics center in the Mediterranean, the Tartus facility is maintained by civilian contractors, and is believed to be guarded by two platoons of naval infantry.”Interestingly,” Gazeta.ru points out “in early 2015, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that he would not mind if Russia turned the Tartus logistics facility into a full-fledged military base. At the moment, Russia has not confirmed that it has any plans to change the object’s status.”
Another logistics point used by ships of the Russian Navy is the southern Vietnamese city of Cam Ranh. Formerly used by Soviet and Russian air, naval and sigint forces, the base’s Russian lease expired in 2004. However, late last year, Russia and Vietnam signed an agreement on the creation of a joint base for the maintenance and repair of submarines at Cam Ranh Bay. Also in 2014, Russian Il-78 tanker aircraft began using Cam Ranh Bay, enabling the refueling of Tu-95 strategic bombers in the Pacific region.
After repelling the Georgian attack on Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008, Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the breakaway republics, which have since been recognized as independent states by Moscow, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Since 2008, South Ossetia has housed the 4th Russian Military airbase, headquartered in Tskhinvali, with other objects located in Java (a military encampment and airbase), Kurt (an airbase) and Dzartsemi (a training ground). The Russian contingent has 4,000 men.
Another 4,000 Russian troops are based at the 7th Krasnodar base, located in the Gudauta and Ochamchira districts in Abkhazia. The base’s headquarters is located in Sukhumi. Other objects include the Bombora military airfield near Gudauta, the training ground and part of the port at Ochamchira, and joint garrisons at Kodori Gorge and near the Inguri hydroelectric power station.
An estimated 1,500 Russian peacekeepers are located on a rotational basis in the republic of Transnistria, which broke off from Moldova in the early 1990s after Moldova broke off from the Soviet Union.
The Near Abroad
To its south, Russia has two military facilities in Armenia. The northern city of Gyumri, near the Georgian border contains the 102nd Russian military base of the Joint CIS Air Defense System (a unified network of air defense
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