By Patrick Knox
RUSSIA is plotting a game-changing naval base in a breakaway east African state in bid to dramatically expand his military might in the Middle East, according to reports.
Talks are reportedly underway between Moscow and leaders in Somaliland for a 1,500 man base to support its warships and hunter-killer submarines to operate in the volatile region and busy shipping lanes carrying most of Europe’s goods.
If realized, this would be Russia’s first base in Africa since the Cold War and be a major step forward for Vladimir Putin’s ambitious modernization programme to revive his country’s once proud navy.
The rumored location of the base is outside of Zeila city, in the self-declared republic of Somaliland.
It is also on the border with Djibouti – nearby the location of China’s first overseas base in modern times which opened last year.
The United Arab Emirates is also building a military base in Berbera in what is – and always has been – a key position to project power in the unstable region.
Dr. Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, told Sun Online: “The Horn of Africa is strategically important for a number of reasons, not least because it allows both power projection into the Middle East and influence over the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden.
“The US and China both have military facilities in Djibouti, and it should come as no surprise that Russia would want facilities there too.
“Russia recently extended the lease it has on its naval facility at Tartus in Syria and the development of a facility in Somaliland could be seen as an attempt to build a blue-water navy.
“Over the last decade, Russian naval activity has been increasing in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, and elsewhere.”
Dr Foxall said Russia’s Naval Doctrine, adopted in 2017, promotes a vision of the Russian Navy as a global force that will remain the world’s second-most powerful navy, after the United States, over the next decade.
According to Somali media, Qarannews, Russia is proposing a deal where it will recognize the breakaway republic of Somaliland in return for being allowed to establish the base.
It is reported the naval base would be staffed by 1,500 people and service destroyers, frigates and submarines.
Over the past 10 years, Russia has been expanding the reach of its Black Sea fleet.
As part of this, it secured its base in Crimea by annexing the region from Ukraine in 2014 and reestablished a base in the Syrian port of Tartus – thanks to Putin’s support of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
It all comes amid growing tensions with Western powers.
Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today compared the current political climate to the Cold War.
The chilling comments came after the US, France and the UK launched strikes on sites in Syria believed to have been connected to the deadly chemical warfare attacks on Douma.
During the attack, last Saturday morning Russian forces based in Syria held back from shooting down cruise missiles with its feared S-400 air defense units which are located at its base.
In December last year, Putin signed off a law ratifying an agreement enabling Russia to expand operations at its Tartus Port facility which is Moscow’s only naval foothold in the Mediterranean.
Dredging work and new piers will make space for up to 11 warships, as well as Russia’s largest battlecruiser, the Pyotr Velikiy.
An Alligator-landing ship was spotted in the Bosphorus on Sunday wand as believed to be on its way to the Syrian base on Sunday.
Last week ahead of the missile strikes attack a British submarine was trapped in a tense “cat-and mouse” pursuit by Russia’s stealthy hunter-killer subs which are believed to be based in Tartus.
Two Russian frigates and an anti-submarine aircraft were understood to have been hunting for HMS Astute as it maneuvered to put its Tomahawk cruise missiles within range of Assad’s chemical sites.
Earlier this month the Royal Navy opened a base, HMS Jufair, in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain – Britain’s first new overseas port in half a century.