MOSCOW — The Russian defence ministry on July 27 denied it was holding negotiations about opening military installations in Cuba, Vietnam and the Seychelles, dismissing as “fantasy” media reports saying as much.
The denial came after Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Vice Adm. Viktor Chirkov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, as saying Russia was working on the deployment of overseas naval bases.
But late July 27, the Defence Ministry said in a statement that Chirkov made no official declaration on the subject.
“Questions concerning relations between nations are not within the jurisdiction of the Russian naval command so should not be presented to the media in that way,” the ministry said. “The appearance of such information in the media is merely the fantasy of (the media) which has opted for sensation over professional ethics.”
The purported statements from Chirkov came ahead of a July 27 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang.
The Soviet Navy had foreign bases in Cam Ranh, in the south of Vietnam, and Tartus in Syria. Putin decided in 2001 to shut the Vietnamese base, which Moscow had rented since Soviet times as a result of a 1979 agreement between Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Russia left the base in 2002.
The Syrian base in Tartus, which was created in 1971 as a supply center for the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, became Moscow’s only military base outside the footprint of the former Soviet Union.
Although analysts see the Tartus base as a key strategic asset for Moscow in the Mediterranean, its infrastructure is extremely modest with just a few dozen staff based there at any one time and naval vessels only visiting for brief calls.
During the early years of his presidency, Putin also closed a Russian listening post on Cuba, a key Soviet-era client, in what was seen at the time as a major step towards improving post-Cold War relations with Washington. But with relations between Russia and the West undergoing a new period of tension at the start of Putin’s third presidential mandate, Moscow seems keen to revive Soviet-era alliances.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the United States was not concerned by Russian moves to re-establish foreign bases.
“The Russian government has interest in various parts of the world, it’s their right to promote those interests,” said George Little.
He noted that the United States is itself pursuing closer relations with Vietnam. “They have allowed access for U.S. supply ships to enter Vietnamese waters, including Cam Ranh Bay,” he said.