Russia has permanent air base in Syria, troops to remain indefinitely

Russia has permanent air base in Syria, troops to remain indefinitely
Pilots by a Russian cargo and assault MI-8AMShT helicopter at the Hmeimim air base in Syria. Dmitriy Vinogradov/RIA Novosti

The Russian parliament has voted to ratify a treaty allowing Russian troops to stay in Syria indefinitely, and making the air base in Latakia permanent, to legitimate its intervention in Syria and pave the way to full invasion of the country.

The Hmeymim airbase agreement was signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015, and was submitted to the State Duma for ratification in the beginning of August, 2016. The document was approved by 446 State Duma lawmakers.

The vote passed unopposed as lawmakers agreed it would confer legitimacy on the Russian presence in Syria.

“Russia is a peaceloving country and it always underlines that we are doing everything to support peace. If we speak about the operation in Syria it is a fight against terrorism. This is a fight against evil and this is a question that is important and which worries Russian citizens and people from other countries as well,” said the Chairman of the Russian parliament Vyacheslav Volodin.

“Russian military personnel and shipments can pass in and out of Syria at will and aren’t subject to controls by Syrian authorities,” the document says. “Syrians can’t enter Russian bases without Russia’s permission. And Russia disclaims any responsibility for damage caused by its activities inside Syria.”

Additionally, according to the agreement, Russia receives use of the Hmeimim aviation base with no fee and does not have to pay taxes in Syria.

Kommersant reported Friday that military officials are considering deploying Su-25 ground-attack aircraft at Hmeimim that Putin ordered out of Syria in March, saying that the Russian military had fulfilled its mission. The newspaper, quoting a “high-ranking military source,” said that two guided-missile ships would join the Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea, to be bolstered later also by a strike force led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which that will set off for Syria later this month.

Syria already has Russia’s only overseas military base, the naval facility at Tartus, and the addition of a permanent air base strengthens its regional position. Other Russian officials used the occasion to speculate that Moscow might be thinking of reopening its former bases in Cuba and Vietnam, an idea already floated in the past by President Vladimir Putin.

Russia launched its air campaign in Syria a year ago which has reversed the tide of the war and helped Assad’s forces regain some key ground, the report said. Moscow says the goal of its military operation is to assist the Syrian army in the fight against terrorism and rejects accusations of targeting civilians in relentless airstrikes.