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By Russ Read
Russia signed a new defense agreement with Syria Friday, allowing Russian forces to stay in Syria for another 50 years.
The new agreement will not only secure Russia’s newfound position in the Middle East, but it will also drastically expand Russian military capabilities in the region. Russia’s temporary Latakia air base will become permanent and its naval station at Tartus will be expanded, allowing it to permanently host 11 ships, including Russia’s Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines, reported Foreign Policy Saturday.
The Latakia air base was the primary operating base for Russia’s onslaught of air strikes which are believed to have killed thousands of Syrian civilians and rebels. The updated Tartus port will allow Russia’s fleet to deploy in the region for extended periods beyond current capability.
Russia’s new defense agreement comes as a new round of Syrian peace talks co-hosted with Iran and Turkey begin Monday. Moscow extended an invitation to President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn to join the talks, however, the administration decided against attending the conference as it continues to fill diplomatic positions. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, although he is believed to have secured enough votes to be sworn in after the Monday afternoon vote.
President Donald Trump expressed interest in working with Russian President Vladimir Putin to combat Islamic State forces in Syria during his campaign and there is dispute as to whether Russian forces are even targeting ISIS. Most Russian strikes in Syria target rebel groups or civilian areas, according to Middle East consulting group Prime Source.
Several of Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed concern over the Russian threat, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson.