Vladimir Putin receives the embrace of Bashar al-Assad at Russia’s Hmeimim Airbase in western Syria, December 11, 2017

Russia is seeking to expand its military position in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin signed a directive on Friday, ordering the Defence and Foreign Ministries to begin talks with the Assad regime on obtaining more facilities and maritime access in Syria.

The Soviet Union established the Tartous naval base in western Syria on the Mediterranean in 1971. Just before its massive military intervention to prop up the Assad regime in September 2015, Russia established the Hmeimim base, also in the west of the country.

An agreement with the Assad regime in January 2017 confirmed Russia’s long-term position, including 49 years at Tartous free of charge. The Kremlin announced in December that Russian presence would be permanent.

Russia’s intervention has helped the regime regain much of the country since 2015. However, Russian State outlets and Putin allies have stepped up criticism of Assad over his handling of economic and political issues, amid corruption, inflation, and shortages of food, fuel, and basic provisions.

Russian interests, including those close to Putin, are also in competition with the regime and Iran — the other essential backer of Assad during the nine-year conflict — for control of Syrian resources.

See Syria Daily, April 30: Assad is Annoying Russia — But What Does Putin Do?