Russian President Vladimir Putin is uncertain whether Russia really needs a permanent military base in Syria, because the cruise missiles at its disposal enable Moscow to reach any potential targets located far away.
“Some here [in Russia ] and there [in Syria] believe that there should be a base. I don’t have such certainty,” Putin said.
European counterparts have voiced the suspicion Russia was hatching plans for having a base there to keep everything in Syria under control.
“But why should we keep everything under control there?” Putin said, adding that Russia had demonstrated the capability of its missiles to cover long distances.
“We did not have that resource [since the elimination of the ground-based cruise missiles]. Now we have it. The sea-launched Kalibr has a range of 1,500 kilometers, and the other, air-launched one, X-101, 4,500 kilometers,” Putin said.
“Why should we have a base there? If we are to really hit some target, we will do that,” Putin said.
The Russian leader said that Moscow was hearing repeated promises its interests in Syria would be taken into account, including the possibility of deploying a base there.
“Generally, I don’t know if we really need a base or not,” Putin said.
He explained that such infrastructures would have to be invested in.
In the meantime, the temporary high-tech modules deployed at the base in Syria’s Latakia can be assembled in two days’ time and airlifted back to Russian airdromes by Antonov-22 planes.
“Possibly, there is some sense (in the existence of a base), but all that is still very fishy. This is worth considering. A temporary logistics point? That’s a possibility. But taking roots there, getting bogged in that situation? No, I don’t see an urgent need for that. We’ll see,” Putin said.
The president added that Russia would continue air strikes, support Syrian army’s offensive, seek contacts with Syria’s opposition fighting against IS.
‘11,000 oil tanker trucks in one place’
According to the Russian leader, the Islamic State terrorist grouping protects illegal oil trade and possible economic interests of a third party in the Middle East region.
Putin made this statement in reply to a question about the motives of Turkey’s downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber over Syria.
Putin reminded the audience of the history of the emergence of IS in the region.
“Vacuum [of power] emerged [in the region] and then elements appeared that were related to oil trade and this situation developed for years,” the Russian president said.
“Business and smuggling on a large industrial scale have been established there,” he added.
“After that, a military force is needed to protect this smuggling and illegal export. And it is very nice to use the ‘Islamic factor’ and draw cannon fodder under Islamic slogans, which in fact simply perform a game linked with economic interests,” Putin said.
“They [militants] started to be lured there. This is how the Islamic State finally appeared, to my view,” Putin said.
The routes of oil deliveries from the regions controlled by extremists have somewhat changed after Russia launched its air strikes against terrorists in Syria, Putin said.
“We have started to deliver strikes against convoys and we now see that they are being split into 5-6, 10-15 tanker trucks and are moving at nighttime but another major oil flow has started to be redirected towards Iraq through Iraqi Kurdistan,” the Russian president said.
“In one place there – and I’ll request the Defense Ministry to show it – we have detected 11,000 oil tanker trucks. Just imagine 11,000 vehicles in one place!” Putin noted.
Russia’s military operation is not a burden for the budget
According to the president, Russia did not start a war in Syria. It is carrying out separate operations, which are not a serious burden for the state budget, Putin said at the annual news conference on Thursday.
“We did not start this war. We are carrying out separate operations that involve our air force, space troops, anti-aircraft systems and reconnaissance,” Putin said when asked if Russia would have enough resources for its military operation in Syria.
The journalist had finished his question with a well-known phrase, “It is easier to start a war than to finish it.”
“It’s not a serious burden for the budget. We simply redirected part of the funds, which we had originally planned to allocate for military exercises, to our military operation in Syria,” the president explained.