Russia has begun setting up a helicopter base at an airport in Qamishli, northeastern Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said on Thursday, showing footage of helicopter gunships arriving there.
The new base is Russia’s third military base in Syria and is located in a civilian airport in the city of Qamishli, close to the border with Turkey.
According to Zvezda, Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems are already stationed at the base along with three helicopters, including two Mi-35 gunships and a Mi-8 military transport helicopter. More military helicopters are expected to be deployed to the base.
Zvezda broadcast footage of Russian military police protecting the base and armored vehicles and ground support crews for the helicopters, as well as a weather station and a small doctor’s surgery.
“This is the first group of Russian military helicopters here in northern Syria ... It’s a historic moment. From this day onwards our aviation group will operate permanently at Qamishli’s city airport,” said Pavel Remnev, Zvezda’s correspondent.
The Russian deployment comes days after reports of talks between Moscow and Damascus on leasing the base.
The new base in Qamishli further establishes Russia’s increasing “dominance as regional power-broker” at the expense of NATO, according to Jessica Leyland, Senior Intelligence Analyst – Middle East and North Africa at AKE International.
“Russia has 400km range S-400 air defence system positioned at Hmeimim base and 600km range anti-ship missiles in Tartus. Consolidating these positions with further air power in Qamishli would be enough to deter most military aggression,” Leyland told Al Arabiya English.
Russia has already been conducting military patrols using helicopters in coordination with military police on the ground along the Syrian-Turkish border.
The new base gives further support to the Russian military presence, explained Leyland, giving “central support” to the troops monitoring the border.
Although the Syrian regime is opposed to Turkish control of its territory, the move has also been seen as benefitting Ankara amid cooperation between Turkish and Russian forces.
“Given the proximity of Qamishli to the Turkish border and the cordial Turkish-Russian relationship, this base has to have been established with at least the tacit approval of Ankara,” said Leyland.
Russian and Turkish forces have carried out joint patrols since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement in Sochi on October 22.
The agreement centered on ensuring the withdrawal of Kurdish-led forces from northern Syria, one of the key objectives of the Turkish military operation launched in October.
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