Russia Takes Palmyra Airbase From Assad Regime: Report

Jun 16, 2020

Military sources told Zaman al-Wasl that Russia has taken full control of Palmyra Military Airbase in the Syrian desert from regime forces, making it the fifth Russian military base in Syria.

A Russian military delegation took official control of the airport at a meeting with a delegation of Assad regime officials headed by the commander of the 22nd Air Force Brigade, Maj. Gen Tawfiq Muhammad Khaddour in early June. The airport has now been evacuated from all Iranian presence and from all regime-related military and logistical forces, a private source said.

Russia has already begun reconstruction of the airport, bringing in engineering and drilling equipment so as to turn it into a Russian military base capable of receiving Russian military and civilian planes and military troops. On completion, the base will be similar to the Hmeimim base, and will be independent of any regime presence.

According to the sources, It is still unclear whether the Russian military control is a long-term or a short-term agreement with the regime.

The rehabilitation engineering operations carried out at the airport, however, indicate that the Russian military stay won’t be short-term. The source further indicated that a large quantity of protective equipment had already been brought to the airport and deployed on the ground there in a way that is suitable for the Russian military and civilian presence.

Russia’s essential motive behind controlling Palmyra airport is military in nature. There is, however, also a strategic motive concerning using the airport to protect local tourism, especially since Palmyra includes some of the most important tourist sites in Syria and the whole Middle East region, and is the only location in the area with significant tourism-related infrastructure like the Palmyra Hotel.

During the engineering preparation operations, the Russian forces uncovered a number of ancient historical monuments, and have maintained control over these despite the presence of the Assad regime delegation which did not seek to prevent this. Russian engineering forces previously carried out other excavation operations seeking historical artefacts in Palmyra in 2017 and 2018 and looted many of those they found, shipping them to Russia, the source said.

Bashar al-Assad's forces and Iranian militias previously used the airport as a military base, deploying L-39 helicopters and airplanes there in September of 2017, after quickly making the necessary changes during the summer of that year. The rehabilitation changes were mainly made by the regime's Airport Battalion with the assistance of civil engineering companies in cooperation with Russian engineering forces.

Russian attack helicopters of various types, as well as a squadron of Iranian aircraft, were temporarily located at the airport during battles against the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in the countryside of Palmyra, Deir Ezzor and Albukamal.

- Zaman Al-Wasl