Ukraine invasion sees Russia bolsters air and naval forces in Syria

Ukraine invasion sees Russia bolsters air and naval forces in Syria
4 min read
22 February, 2022
As Russian troops move into eastern Ukraine, additional air units and naval warships have been sent to Hemeimeem air base and Tartous port in Syria.
Russia has sent hypersonic missiles to its airbase in Syria [Getty]

Russia has increased its military hardware at its strategic Hmeimim airbase in Syria, and bolstered naval activity, in conjunction with its controversial movements in Ukraine. 

Open source reports and tweets from the Russian ministry of defence suggest that hypersonic missiles and strategic bombers have been sent to the Hmeimim in Latakia province.

Russia has also boosted its naval forces, with more ships, submarines, and strengthened coastal defences in the eastern Mediterranean, where the Russian-owned Syrian port of Tartous is located, as President Vladimir Putin ordered an effective invasion of Ukraine.

As global eyes look worriedly in Ukraine, build-ups in Syria, and movements from the eastern Mediterranean, are also highlighting links between current events in Eastern Europe and Russia's involvement in Syria. 

"The connection between the bases [in Syria] used by the Russian Federation is indicative. This was made possible by the expansion of Russia's presence in the Mediterranean through Syria and the granting of the right to use the regime's bases in Syria for decades to come," Ruslan Trad, author and Syrian analyst, told The New Arab.

"The creation of important infrastructure has allowed not only Russia's entry into the region but, as we see, the relocation of ships and other military assets between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean."

Recent releases from Russia have revealed that military hardware transferred to these bases. 

"Long-range aircraft Tu-22m3 and MiG-31k with the Kinzhal aviation complex arrived at the Khmeimim [sic] airfield in the Syrian Arab Republic to participate in a naval exercise of the inter-fleet grouping of the Navy in the Mediterranean Sea," a tweet by the Russian ministry of defence read. 

Russia claimed that the forces amassed around Ukraine were there for military exercises before they were then ordered into the eastern Ukrainian country for "peacekeeping" operations during a speech by Putin on Monday night. 

Of particular concern is the presence of the 9-A-76609 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile in Latakia. The missile is capable of reaching ten-times the speed of sound and has a range of 1,240 miles. 

This means it could be fired from its Syrian airbase and still reach many European capitals. 

At the port in Tartous, Naval News reported that Russian naval forces have been boosted by two additional Slava class cruisers with escorts.

It was believed that they would be moved to the Black Sea but it now appears they will now remain in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Furthermore, an additional two Improved Kilo Class submarines have joined the fray, with also a Bastion-P battery, mobile coastal defence missile system. 

Russia hinted at Syria's importance in any upcoming confrontation with the West when, on 15 February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu landed at the Hemeimeem airbase for meetings with Syrian officials. 

Shoigu held meetings with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who he reportedly kept waiting for four hours, where they discussed cooperation between the two militaries. 

"I believe that the destinies of Syria and Ukraine are connected and will become more and more in the future," Trad told The New Arab

"This is due to the importance of the military infrastructure that Russia has built in the years after 2014-2015. Recall that Moscow's interventions in Ukraine and Syria are interrelated, although this remains out of the analysis." 

In 2015, Russia entered the conflict in Syria on the side of President Bashar Al-Assad helping turn the tide of the brutal conflict in favour of the regime.

Russian airstrikes smashed opposition forces, decimating logistics centres and civilian infrastructure with thousands killed. Russia's targeting of schools, hospitals, and rescue workers in the conflict has been widely condemned.

Furthermore, Russia has admitted that the conflict in Syria served as an important training ground for Russian forces, and an ideal testing facility for new military technology and hardware.

"This experience is being used in eastern Ukraine and vice versa - many of the mercenaries who sided with the separatists in Ukraine have passed through Syria since 2014," explained Trad.

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"From now on, the Russian Federation can use more and more Hemeimeem not only in the context of its Middle East policies. but also to pressure NATO members such as Turkey, and also to monitor the movement of Western ships and aircraft through the Eastern Mediterranean."

While ongoing events in Ukraine will likely continue to dominate the thoughts of many Western nations, the Russian military buildup in the Mediterranean, including the Syrian port of Tartous, should also ring alarm bells for the West and NATO. 

"If Western powers - NATO or separate countries - want to really strike at Russia's interests on a global scale, they should come up with ways to counter Russia's presence in the Mediterranean," Trad told The New Arab

"This means having a specific policy towards Moscow's presence in Syria. So far, however, we do not see concrete action in this direction. On the contrary, Russia has competition only from Iran in Syria."