Russia denies plans for foreign naval bases


Russia’s defence ministry has denied that it is planning to establish new naval bases overseas, following reports that the country was looking to Cuba, Vietnam and the Seychelles as possible base sites.

“It’s true that we are continuing work on providing the navy with basing outside the Russian Federation,” state-run RIA news agency quoted Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov as saying in an interview on July 27. Chirkov said Russia was “working out the issue of creating sites for material and technical support on the territory of Cuba, the Seychelles and Vietnam.”

However the ministry shortly afterwards said that Chirkov had never made the alleged remarks and that the subject had not been broached during the interview. “Issues concerning international relations are not part of the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief of the navy,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

It added that the reported remarks were a “fantasy of their author, who preferred to prioritise sensationalism above competency and professional ethics”.

A day after the RIA interview, Chirkov told Echo Moskvy radio station that setting up Russian naval bases in foreign counties is “not the navy fleet’s job…This is a job for the Foreign Ministry’s executive management…The fleet is meant to provide the country’s stability in any part of the ocean.”

Russia has been increasing the reach of its navy in recent years, sending warships further afield as part of an effort to restore pride project power in a world dominated by the U.S. military.

The Soviet Union had a large naval base in Communist ally Vietnam but post-Soviet Russia opted to vacate the Cam Ranh base in 2002, during President Vladimir Putin’s first Kremlin term, because rent payments were a burden on state coffers.

The fate of Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet Union, a maintenance and supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartous, is uncertain because of the conflict in Syria.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, who was in Russia and was to meet Putin late last month, was quoted as telling a Russian radio station that Vietnam has “no intention of cooperating with any country with the aim of military use of the port of Cam Ranh”.

However, Sang was quoted as telling Voice of Russia radio that a maintenance and service facility at the port would be open to ships from all nations and that, in the interest of furthering a “strategic partnership” with Moscow, Vietnam “will provide Russia with advantages in Cam Ranh, including with aim of developing military cooperation”.

Russia is not the only one looking at a base in the Seychelles. In December last year the Seychelles invited China to set up a base to counter piracy in the region – the island nation hosts anti-piracy forces from other countries, including the United States and India.