At Press Conference, Putin Forgets About Military Bases in Armenia, Moldova, Abkhazia...
Russian President Vladimir Putin has modestly understated the number of military bases that Russia operates outside its borders, apparently forgetting about the several bases Russia has in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
In his big annual press conference on December 18, the BBC's John Simpson asked Putin about the breakout of a "new Cold War" and Russia's aggressive moves around its Western borders. Putin said that it was in fact the West who was aggressive:
We have basically only two bases abroad, and those are in terroristically dangerous directions: in Kyrgyzstan after militants from Afghanistan entered that country, at the reqyest of the Kyrgyz authorities, then President Akayev, and in Tajikistan -- also on the border with Afghanistan. I think you also would be interested in everything being stable there, too.
American bases are all over the globe. And you want to say that we're acting aggressively? Does that make sense? What are American armed forces, including tactical nuclear weapons, doing in Europe? What are they doing there?
Putin has a point: there are certainly a lot more American military bases abroad than Russian ones, and certainly a lot more American military deployed close to Russia's borders than the other way around. But he neglected to mention several other bases Russia has abroad:
-- In Armenia, Russia's 102nd Military Base in Gyumri hosts about 5,000 Russian soldiers, both land and air forces. In 2010 Armenia and Russia signed an agreement extending the base's lease until 2044. In recent years Russia has made moves to upgrade its presence at the base and it may host the Caucasus portion of the nascent CSTO air forces.
-- In Abkhazia, Russia's 7th Military Base hosts at the Bombora air field in Gudauta about 3,500 soldiers and a small number of aircraft. Russia has reportedly spent $465 million since recognizing Abkhazia as an independent country in 2008 to upgrade its military facilities there. In 2011, Russia and Abkhazia signed an agreement permitting the base to stay until 2060.
-- in South Ossetia, the 4th Military Base hosts about 3,800 soldiers in Tskhinvali, Java, and Kanchaveti. There is also a military airport in Kurta. That base also has the right to stay until 2060.
-- in Transnistria, Russia keeps about 1,500 troops in the Moldovan breakaway republic, based in the de facto capitol Tiraspol as well as in the Bender Fortress.
And that doesn't include the naval base at Tartus, Syria (although that one is temporarily evacuated) or the air base planned for Belarus in 2016. And in February, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Russia was planning several new military bases abroad, including "Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries," though no details of those plans have emerged.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.