MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday Russia was looking to open new naval bases abroad to increase the global reach of a military that shrunk abruptly when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Soviet forces drew on over a dozen naval bases in Europe, South America, Africa and South East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s; but post-Soviet economic crisis, fuel shortages and a rundown of the military confined forces largely to home bases.
Vladimir Putin began rebuilding military power after he assumed the Russian presidency in 2000.
Last year, state news agency Itar-Tass cited military sources saying Russia had decided to establish naval bases in Libya and Yemen and expand facilities at the Syrian port of Tartus.
Asked during a televised meeting with senior military officers whether Russia was planning to set up new foreign bases, Medvedev said: “I would make no secret of the fact that we have certain ideas on this theme.”
“But I would not name them aloud, for obvious reasons.”
Moscow shut down its overseas bases in Cuba and Vietnam in 2002, leaving just two naval footholds abroad: a major Black Sea base at Sevastopol, Ukraine, and facilities in Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
In January, Russia said it would modernize its facilities in Tartus by 2011, and in April agreed to cut the price it charges Ukraine for gas by 30 percent in exchange for a 25-year extension of its lease of the Sevastopol base.
Medvedev said that the final decision on new naval bases would obviously depend on Russia’s partners.
“As you may realize, bases in foreign states cannot be set up by a decree of the Russian president,” he said during the meeting in Nizhny Novgorod, 400 km (248 miles) north-east of Moscow.
“We need to do complicated political and diplomatic work... so that (our bases) are seen by (other countries) as a reinforcement of their own image, their own security,” he said.
In recent years the Kremlin has revived several Cold War era practices to demonstrate the reach of its military.
In 2008 Russian war ships sailed into Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in what was read by many as a snub to the United States. Russia’s long-range aviation has also undertaken a series of sorties along the borders of NATO states, irritating the country’s Cold War era foes.
Writing by Alexei Anishchuk; editing by Ralph Boulton
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