Russia has announced the arrival of new combat helicopters and the establishment of an airbase at a site which was formerly a US-controlled stronghold in northern Syria, the state-run TASS news agency reported today.
The site became vacant when the US military left the northern Syrian city of Qamishli – the Kurdish-dominated administrative centre of the People's Protection Units (YPG) – last month amid Turkey's launch of Operation Peace Spring. The operation was brought to a halt when a deal was struck between Turkey and Russia.
As part of that deal, the YPG militants were to be moved further south outside the boundaries of the planned safe zone, and Turkish and Russian forces were to conduct joint patrols around the zone in order to get it established. The sixth joint Turkish-Russian patrol was conducted today. Qamishli was exempted from Turkish control in the safe zone deal.
The Russian airbase, identified as an aviation commandant's office, is to ensure that the helicopters can extend the areas covered by their patrols. The commanding officer, Timur Khodzhayev, told TASS that the primary aims to be achieved through the establishment of the base will be "uninterrupted flights, safety of helicopters and protection and defence of this territory."
"It's a historic moment," stressed Khodzhayev. "Our aviation group will be permanently active at the Qamishli airport as of today." Footage released on the Zvezda news channel, run by the Russian Defence Ministry, shows the first group of helicopters landing at the base while being protected by the Pantsir missile air defence system.
The move by the Russian military marks its greater involvement in the Syrian conflict, in which it has been supporting and backing the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. It comes a month after US forces withdrew from areas in northern Syria due to the Turkish military incursion. Since then, however, US forces have been spotted returning to the region. This was confirmed by US President Donald Trump recently when he admitted to keeping troops in the war-torn country in order to secure Syrian oil fields in the east.