Russia is preparing to establish a military base near the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, the Zaman al-Wsl news outlet reported on June 14.
Citing a special source, the outlet said the base will be established at the Palmyra Air Base. A Syrian military delegation headed by Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Khaddour, commander of the air forces’ 22nd Air Division, reportedly handed the base to the Russian military a while ago.
“The Iranians have evacuated the air base, in addition to everything related or belong to regime forces, whether it is military or logistical,” the source said.
The air base was badly damaged during the second battle of Palmyra in 2017. According to Zaman al-Wsl, the Russian military has begun work to rehabilitate the base. The outlet claimed that warplanes will be deployed at the base, which will be also used as a commercial airport in the future. However, this scenario is highly unlikely.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s defense and foreign ministries to hold talks with Damascus to obtain additional facilities and maritime access in Syria.
The information provided by Zaman al-Wsl are yet to be verified. Nonetheless, Russia may be indeed interested in boosting its presence in central Syria. A Russian base in Palmyra could forward anti-terrorism efforts in the region, where ISIS is still active.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered the defence and foreign ministries to hold talks with Damascus to obtain additional facilities and maritime access in Syria.
“Accept the proposal of the government of the Russian Federation to sign Protocol No. 1 to the agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on the deployment of an aviation group of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic dated Aug. 26, 2015 on the transfer of additional ground and water areas,” the resolution says, according to the Anadolu News Agency.
Currently, Russia has two military bases in Syria, an air base in Lattakia and a naval base in Tartus. A deal with the Damascus government allows Russian forces to use the two bases free of charge for 49 years.
Syria hosts many other smaller Russian fortified positions (often described by locals as bases), like the air-defense facility in western Hama, where an S-400 air-defense system is deployed, or the Russian Military Police base in the northeastern city of al-Qamishli.
Russia’s support allowed Syrian government forces to re-impose control of vast parts of the country. ISIS’ strongholds were liberated and the remaining militants were pushed to a narrow strip in northern Syria.
The expansion of the military structure will solidify the Russian presence in the country and further. This could lead to the increase of the number of air-defense systems, intelligence gathering equipment or even ground forces deployed in Syria. This step also demonstrates that recent reports claiming that Russian-Syrian relations are declining were just fake news.