Russia says its military will stay for good in the strategic ports of Tartus and Khmeimim in Syria.
Russia has started establishing a permanent military presence at naval and air bases in Syria, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, as parliament ratified a deal with Damascus to cement a Russian presence in the country, the RIA state news agency reported.
The deal, signed on January 18 will expand the Tartus naval facility, Russia's only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, and grant Russian warships access to Syrian waters and ports, Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house security and defence committee, told RIA.
RIA news agency separately quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying:
"Last week the Commander-in-Chief [President Vladimir Putin] approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Khmeimim [air base]. We have begun forming a permanent presence there."
The Tartus naval facility, in use since the days of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.
According to the RIA report, the agreement will allow Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels. The agreement will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further.
The Khmeimim air base, from which Russia has launched numerous air strikes in support of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad during his war with rebels, can now be used by Russia indefinitely, according to the deal.
Earlier in December, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have ordered "the defence minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops," while on a visit to Khmeimim air base.