MOSCOW, July 21 (UPI) -- Russia plans to modernize its naval facilities at the Syrian port of Tartus in an effort to strengthen its military position in the Mediterranean.
Russia maintains a naval supply and maintenance base in Tartus, south of Damascus, under the terms of a Soviet-era bilateral arrangement.
Moscow viewed Damascus as its strongest ally in the Middle East during the latter years of the Cold War, though that relationship diminished following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has welcomed renewed interest from Moscow, however, as part of a broader effort to strengthen military cooperation.
Russian has only 50 naval personnel stationed at Tartus currently, though planned expansions could make the base fully operational, RIA Novosti reports.
The Tartus facility can accommodate as many as 12 warships.
Russian defense officials told the news service that the naval facility in Syria would go toward securing commercial shipping lanes in the region, which are vulnerable to pirates.
Tartus exposes Russian naval vessels to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and Moscow said it hopes to expand its naval presence in the region to include facilities in Yemen and Libya.