Agencies- Possible port calls by Russian naval ships to Beirut in Lebanon were agreed upon at bilateral negotiations, but the Soviet-era supply and maintenance base at Syria's Tartous Port remains at the disposal of the Russian Navy, a military-diplomatic source told Interfax-AVN on Friday.
"There is the two sides' agreement regulating possible port calls by Russian ships to Lebanon's Beirut. We have already paid for Baltic Fleet ships' recent maintenance at this port. This port call became possible thanks to previously reached agreements that permitted our ships to enter Beirut Port starting from this year," the source said.
Lebanon will charge fees for Russian ships' port calls, he added.
"A navigation pilot's services, the rent of piers, electricity bills and supplies of fresh water and food will be paid for separately," the source added.
Russian warships will dock in Beirut instead of Syria’s Tartous port, where Moscow has a naval facility, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday.
“The escalating conflict in Syria and [doubts] over the entry of Russian ships into the port of Tartous forced us to search for safer ports for [docking], and one of them is in Beirut,” a diplomatic source told Interfax.
A flotilla of Russian Baltic Sea vessels came into the port in Beirut recently, added the source. High security measures surrounded the Russian ships.
Later on Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense denied the reports that Russian warships will not tank up in Syria's Tartous and that they have been redirected to Lebanon's Beirut to resupply.
"The reports that Russian warships will visit the Lebanese port of Beirut for resupply and crew recreation instead of Syria's Tartous which accommodates the Russian sustainment center, disseminated by a number of Russian mass media outlets citing an military and diplomatic source, are no more than an invention," the Ministry said an in official press release on Thursday.
On Friday & according to Interfax-AVN too, the Russian military-diplomatic source denied any plans to scrap the supply base in Tartous and look for new venues that could host the Russian Navy's supply and maintenance bases in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Tartous retains its status of a supply base for Russian warships. We will be able to resume its full-fledged operations after the situation in the country [Syria] is brought back to normal," he said.
The Syrian port of Tartous will be the main Russian supply base for the Mediterranean naval operational division. In addition, ports in Cyprus, Greece and Montenegro also will be used. The Russian Med naval operational squadron will be equipped with newer ships that currently are being built.
Interfax on Thursday reported that a Russian source insisted that Russia was not considering abandoning its position in Tartous for the moment. The Syrian port currently serves as a refueling station for Russian ships, its acts as Moscow’s only Mediterranean Port.
“The port of Tartous continues to be the only official [facility] for Russian ships [in the Mediterranean],” the source explained. “Once events in Syria become more predictable, we will be able to [come to] a position on continuing the use of Tartous.”
Russia is expected to create a permanent “naval operational division” in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in an effort to “defend Russian national interests,” Russian defense ministry officials said.
Russia's Defense Ministry and the Kremlin are going to re-establish a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. While billions are being spent to upgrade the navy, experts say the motivation is not to threaten other nations.
In making its presence permanent, Moscow has decided to deploy a naval grouping of from six to 10 warships and support vessels.
Russian naval squadrons have been deployed at that location more and more to protect a key Russian base in Syria, Tartous, during the civil war that continues there.
Moscow has insisted on staying in an effort to maintain the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to counter U.S. and other allied navies in the area.
Russia is one of the Syrian regime’s key allies and offers both diplomatic and military support to the embattled President Bashar al-Assad, where around 70,000 people have been killed– according to the U.N. – since the March 2011 uprising.