Russian naval landing ships 370 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
MOSCOW - Russia currently has no Defense Ministry personnel in Syria, the Vedomosti newspaper reported on Wednesday, indicating Moscow has withdrawn staff from its naval facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartous and may have stopped using it.
If accurate, the report could indicate Russia was concerned about the danger to its workers posed by the rebellion against Moscow's ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, analysts said.
Vedomosti cited an unidentified Defense Ministry source as saying there were no servicemen or civilian personnel in Tartous, and no Russian military advisers with Syrian government units.
Russia's foreign and defense ministries declined to comment, but Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's special Middle East envoy, was quoted as making similar statement to London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat
"Currently, there is no one in Syria from the Russian Defense Ministry," Al-Hayat
quoted Bogdanov as saying.
Russia's modest maintenance and supply facility at Tartous is its
only naval base outside the former Soviet Union, and has given Russia a
foothold in Syria during the conflict.
President Vladimir Putin
has flexed Russia's muscle near Syria's shores, ordering a naval unit to
be deployed in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the 1991
But Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based military
analyst, said withdrawing the personnel from Tartous would be a "very
reasonable move" to protect staff.
If a Russian military
technician was taken hostage, for instance, "Russia would have a big
problem that it would be difficult to solve," he told Reuters
said there had been about 100 military technicians at Tartous to serve
ships that stopped there for supplies and minor maintenance, but that
they could have been withdrawn earlier this year when naval exercises
were conducted in the area.
There as been speculation Russia has
used the facility as a transit point for shipments of weapons and
ammunition to Assad's forces. Russia has said its weapons supplies to
Assad's government are legal and mostly defensive.
shielded Assad during the conflict, blocking Western-backed UN Security
Council resolutions meant to push him from power or pressure him to end