MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — The Russian defence ministry denied yesterday Russia was holding negotiations about opening military installations in Cuba, Vietnam and the Seychelles, dismissing as “fantasy” media reports saying as much.
The denial came after Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the commander-inchief of the Russian Navy, as saying Russia was working on the deployment of overseas naval bases.
But late yesterday, the defence ministry said in a statement that Chirkov had made no official declaration on the subject.
“Questions concerning relations between nations are not within the jurisdiction of the Russian naval command so should not be presented to the media in that way,” the ministry said.
“The appearance of such information in the media is merely the fantasy of (the media) which has opted for sensation over professional ethics,” the statement added.
The purported statements from Chirkov came ahead of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang yesterday.
The Soviet Navy had foreign bases in Cam Ranh, in the south of Vietnam, and Tartus in Syria.
Putin decided in 2001 to shut the Vietnamese base, which Moscow had rented since Soviet times as a result of a 1979 agreement between Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Russia left the base in 2002.
The Syrian base in Tartus, which was created in 1971 as a supply centre for the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, became Moscow’s only military base outside the USSR.
Although analysts see the Tartus base as a key strategic asset for Moscow in the Mediterranean, its infrastructure is extremely modest with just a few dozen staff based there at any one time and naval vessels only visiting for brief calls.
During the early years of his presidency, Putin also closed a Russian listening post on Cuba, a key Soviet-era client, in what was seen at the time as a major step towards improving post-Cold War relations with Washington.