Putin flexes muscles with plans for new African base – with chilling echoes of Suez
RUSSIA is upping the stakes in the increasingly tense international arena with plans for a massive new naval base in Somaliland which would dramatically increase Vladimir Putin’s military might in the region – and conjure up chilling parallels with the Suez Crisis.
The move comes at a time of heightened tension between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the West
Moscow is reported to be in discussions with leaders in the East African country with a view to building a 1,500 man-base which would offer support to warships and submarines patrolling the volatile stretch of sea, which is used to traffic huge quantities of goods to and from Europe.
Somali media outlet Qarannews claims Russia is ready to officially recognise Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence from neighbouring Somalia in 1991, as a nation in its own right, in return for permission to build the base.
The plan would see service destroyers, frigates and submarines operating out of the facility.
Russia has been expanding its Black Sea fleet for a decade, facilitated in part by securing a base in Crimea following its annexation of the former Ukraine region in 2014.
It has also reestablished a base in the Syrian port of Tartus, largely as a result of cooperation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Putin is backing in the ongoing civil war.
The move comes as Russian Foreign Minister acknowledged parallels with the political climate of the Cold War, with relations strained in the wake of the strikes by the United States, France and the UK on sites in Syria believed to be linked to the chemical attacks on Douma.
Last December, Mr Putin signed an agreement which allows Russia to expand operations at Tartus, Moscow’s only base in the Mediterranean.
Prior to the air strikes, a British submarine was reportedly trapped in a game of “cat-and mouse” by Russian hunter-killer subs, thought to be based in Tartus.
Somaliland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Saad Ali Shire meets Russian diplomat Yury Kourchako
The Horn of Africa is strategically important for a number of reasons.
Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre
A pair of Russian frigates and an anti-submarine aircraft were believed to have been hunting for HMS Astute as it moved into position to ensure Tomahawk cruise missiles were within range of Assad’s chemical sites.
The Royal Navy opened a new base, HMS Jufair, in the Bahrain – the UK’s first new overseas port in 50 years.
Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, said: “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.”
The Suez Crisis in 1956 is generally regarded as the moment in which Britain’s standing as an international power began to wane.
Triggered by the decision of USSR-backed Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser to nationalise the Suez canal, with the Soviets providing expert “pilots” who taught Egyptians to steer vessels through the narrow waterway.
The decision prompted an invasion of the country by forces of Israel, Britain and France – but the USSR and the USA brokered a ceasefire which was seen as a humiliating defeat for British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and the Egyptians were subsequently confirmed as owners of the canal.