In spite of the shrinking Russian economy, the negative impact on the Russian federal budget from low oil prices and an expensive adventure in Crimea and East Ukraine, the Russian military is expanding its offshore basing options from Syria to the disputed Kuril Islands of Japan.
Fox News reports from an anonymous Pentagon source, Moscow’s presence in Syria has grown to a total of four forward operating bases, including recently added bases in Hama and Tiyas. But the most concerning to the Pentagon is the second airbase in Shayrat, which can support fixed-wing aircraft, greatly expanding Russia’s capability for airstrikes, which began on Sept. 30.
“The Russians are operating helicopters out of Shayrat airport, but they are making [preparations] to land fixed-wing aircraft.” This would greatly improve the Russian airstrike capability in the Syrian, Iraqi region. “This is an expansion, not a defensive move at all,” said the source.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on the ministry’s website today that Russia is actively building military facilities on the far eastern Kuril Islands which have been disputed with Japan since the end of World War II. “Russia is “actively carrying out construction of military compounds on the islands of Iturup and Kunashir,” Mr. Shoigu was quoted saying during a meeting of defense officials in Moscow. “This year, the priority is finishing the most essential buildings and the engineering infrastructure” to receive troops and equipment.”
Russia has constructed 248 pre-fabricated buildings on the island that mainly consist of support facilities for military personnel. Approximately 19,000 Russians currently live on the islands, but Japan does not recognize Russian control.