MOSCOW -- Russia is talking to Cuba, Vietnam and the Indian Ocean island country of Seychelles about housing Russian navy ships, the nation's navy chief said in remarks reported Friday.
Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov told the state RIA Novosti news agency that Russia is in talks about setting up maintenance and supply facilities for Russian ships in those countries but wouldn't give any further details.
Russia's only existing naval base outside the Soviet Union is located in the Syrian port of Tartus. A squadron of Russian navy ships, including several assault ships carrying marines, is currently heading to Tartus in a show of support for a longtime ally whom Moscow protected from international sanctions and continued to supply with weapons.
Chirkov's statement marked a sharp about-face for Russia, which closed a Soviet-era naval base at Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay and a spy base in Lourdes on Cuba in the early 2000s during President Vladimir Putin's first term.
Along with financial reasons, that move was part of Putin's bid to improve ties with the United States. But relations with Washington deteriorated and Putin, who was re-elected to a third term in March, has grown increasingly eager to challenge Washington. During his election campaign, he accused the U.S. of encouraging protest against his 12-year rule in order to weaken Russia, and pledged to strengthen the nation's military might.