Tartus, Syria (PortSEurope) April 24, 2019 – Russia is expected to sign by the end of April a 49-year lease contract for the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus, according to Russian deputy prime minister Yury Borisov. The agreement includes possible extensions by 25-year periods. The agreement to lease Tartus was provisionally reached in 2018 and use of the port will give Russia influence over eastern
Mediterranean. It also allows the Russian Navy to expand its technical support and logistics base, located on the northern edge of the port of Tartus. Tartus is the Russian Navy’s only Mediterranean port facility, sparing Russia’s warships the trip back to their Black Sea bases through the Bosphorus Strait and its only overseas base. In the Syrian civil war, Russia sided with and saved the regime in Damascus. The Tartus military facility, leased in 2017 also for a 49-year period can currently accommodate up to four medium-sized vessels but only if both of its 100 m floating piers are operational. Russia has been preparing the ground for taking over Tartus for years. In October 2018 Syria’s Transport Ministry said it was cooperating with Russian company Stroytransgaz in a project to expand the seaport. Stroytransgaz has been operating in Syria since 2000. To date, contracts have been implemented for the construction of the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) with a length of 319 kilometres and gas processing plant No. 1 (South Middle Area Gas Exploitation Project) – GPP – 1. Russia and Iran are competing for influence in war-torn Syria. From October 2019, Iran is to lease the container terminal of Latakia port, gaining a highly strategic foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean, 322 km by sea from key Israeli port of Haifa. Russia also has a fortified air force base in Khmeimim, near the port of Latakia. Iran is also working on the construction of a power plant in Latakia. State-owned Latakia is Syria’s main commercial port. Its harbour is 135 hectares, has 32 wharfs, 18 cranes, a channel depth of 14.5 metres, the warehouses provide 62.8 hectares and can handle some three million tonnes of cargo a year. In 2009, CMA CGM signed a concession agreement with Latakia Port General Company (LPGC) to manage and operate the container terminal for a period of 10 years (extendable to 15 years). The terminal is operated by a consortium composed of CMA CGM/Terminal Link (51%), and Souria Holding (49%), a Syrian Limited Liability Company. It is rumoured that Russia was against the lease of Latakia port by Iran, but Tehran has provided the Syrian government with billions of dollars of credits and significant fuel supplies. Despite their cooperation, the rivalry between Tehran and Moscow is becoming visible in post-war Syria. Iran has been repeatedly asking Syria for access to its ports, due to Israeli airstrikes against its shipments via Syria’s roads and airports, but under Russian pressure, Damascus did not cooperate. As of October, Tehran will have its own port which will help Iran move goods (according to Israel, also weapons) towards Lebanon. A foothold in Latakia fulfils a decades-long Iranian dream of having direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, from where it can ship goods, arms and political influence globally. A permanent Iranian presence in Latakia could limit and possibly obstruct Russian surveillance and intelligence gathering in the region, jam their radio-electronic technology, and jeopardize Russian air-defences, aircraft, and the lives of military personnel. It is believed that companies linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guard have already started using the port of Latakia, which would become the Mediterranean link on an emerging trading route through the so-called Shia crescent from Iran through Iraq. The ports of Tartus and Latakia were managed by the Philippine’s International Container Terminal Services until 2011, when due to the civil war in Syria, they were classified as dangerous areas. Russia is also eyeing the oil storage facility at Tripoli port in Libya, 30 kilometres from the Syrian border and 60 kilometres from the port of Tartus. In January this year, a Russian delegation, which included the governor of Sevastopol (in occupied Ukrainian Crimea), Dmitry Ovsyannikov, visited Syria. The authorities of Sevastopol and the Syrian province of Tartus signed a cooperation agreement. One of the areas of collaboration is the organisation of freight traffic. Severely hit by the sanctions imposed to Crimea after its annexation by Russia in 2014, Sevastopol port could provide transhipment of several million tonnes of cargo per year, including within the framework of cooperation between Russia and Syria, with the possibility to increase capacity at a later date, according to the director of the economic development department of Sevastopol, Vladimir Yezhikov. Russia annexed Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in February-March 2014 and since then it has been administered as two Russian federal areas – the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. Annexation was accompanied by a military intervention by Russia in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2019.