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Russian ambitions on Mediterranean stir Cold War chill
MOSCOW — Russia stirred memories of the Cold War yesterday when the head of the country’s navy called for the establishment of a permanent naval base in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Soviet era.
Announced a day after an audacious mission to the North Pole to bolster Russia’s territorial claims in the Arctic, Moscow’s renewed naval ambitions are likely to spread further unease in NATO capitals.
“The Mediterranean Sea is very important strategically,” Adm. Vladimir Masorin said on a tour of the Russian navy’s Black Sea base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. “I propose that, with the involvement of the Northern and Baltic fleets, the Russian navy should restore its permanent presence there.”
His remarks raise doubts about the Kremlin’s denial last year of a newspaper claim that new moorings were being built in the Syrian port of Tartus.
If the port plan proceeds, Russian vessels and warships from the U.S. 6th Fleet, based in Italy, would face each other in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Cold War, when the Soviet navy was based in Tartus.
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said last year that the Russian navy had dredged the port at Tartus in preparation for deploying a force there. But the newspaper said the navy was, in part, using the Syrian base as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Ukraine over its lease for Sevastopol.
Moscow rents the facilities for $93 million a year under a 1997 agreement that lasts until 2017. Ukraine has sought to increase the price.
“It has been the dream of our admirals for a long time to restore our naval greatness and keep the task force we had under the Soviet Union,” military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Reuters news agency.
Russia’s new assertiveness has created friction and prompted some Western policy-makers to make comparisons to the Cold War.
Mr. Putin has said Russia would target its missiles at sites in Europe if Washington went ahead with a plan to build elements of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. He also has suspended Russia’s compliance with an arms control treaty.
Washington will be watching both developments in the Mediterranean and the Arctic with concern.
Yesterday, it bluntly warned Moscow that any attempt to claim sovereignty over the Arctic would not be tolerated after Russia planted its national flag under the North Pole on Thursday.
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