Russia is constructing a military base in Syria
20 September, 2015

Foreword by the Saker: I am delighted to post an article which, unlike all the nonsense we have been fed by Ynet, Debka and the rest of them, actually makes sense and outlines what appears to me a very likely description of the rationale behind the military component of the overall Russian strategy towards the war against Syria.  This article also confirms my guess that Latakia (and not Damascus) will be the center of the Russian effort.  While only time will show what the Russians will eventually do, I hope that this analysis puts to rest all the hyperbole about MiG-31s and Russian Airborne Divisions engaging Daesh.
The Saker

Russia is constructing a military base in Syria

translated by Alena Scarecrow

While the hunters for the traces of the Russian militaries in the Ukraine and Syria were monitoring social networks trying to dig out photos proving our marines’ presence at the Syrian port Tartus, the Western media resorted to different tactics – the one of assumptions and presumptions. Good logical thinking, indeed, for any of the numerous versions they have been advancing might well shoot under certain circumstances.
We would like to remind the readers that the Western journalists and the Russian restless Fifth Column both aim at proving by all means the Russian servicemen’s presence in Syria. Being unable to present any direct evidence thereof, “the debunkers” chose to recourse to their favourite technique – reading tea leaves.
One of the “researchers” Ruslan Leviev, for instance, made an error having placed a bet on the Russian marines – alas, their presence on the board of the large landing ship as well as at the Syrian port Tartus is nowhere close to a sensation being totally legal and regulated by Order 321 from 23 August 1997. Moreover, it is our army’s duty to protect military facilities abroad, so even finding the Russian marines on the airfield 5 kilometers from Latakia will hardly be a scoop. Sorry, Ruslan, a wrong shot.
Meanwhile, the Western media have been taking wild guesses over the course of the last two weeks, spitting into the informational space dozens of conjectures and proofs of the Russian military presence in Syria. A good half of the material is a fake, a part of it is versions and the rest is “information from reliable sources”. Nonetheless, having such a variety of ideas, the Western journalists in a probabilistic sense had a good chance to make a correct guess and hit the target. Let us recall their principal versions and proofs:
  1. Russia delivers to Syria 6 MIG-31 fighters-interceptors (the Turkish media, the middle of August).
  2. Russia deploys military aircraft with the Russian crew near Damascus (the Israeli media, the end of August).
  3. Russia is forming striking troops of a thousand of soldiers near Damascus (the Israeli media, the end of August).
  4. The Russian aircraft with the Russian crew bombs the positions of the Islamists (the Israeli media, 1-2 September).
  5. The Russian language is heard speaking among the Syrian troops near Latakia and Hama (the Lebanese media, 2-3 September).
  6. Russia is constructing a military base near Damascus (the Israeli media, 2-3 September).
  7. The FCA fighters meet more and more Russians siding with the government troops (the British media, 5 September).
  8. Russia is constructing a military base in Latakia (the Israeli and American media, 5-11 September).
  9. Russia moves thousands of soldiers to Latakia (the American media, 6 September).
  10. Russia is preparing for a large-scale operation against the Islamist fighters (the American media, 6-11 September).
  11. The Syrian army backed by the Russian troops launches an offensive in Latakia (the Lebanese media, 8-10 September).
Only one version has shot so far – “Russia is constructing a military base in Latakia”. As a side note, at the distance of five kilometers from Latakia seaport there is Bassel al Assad airport that also serves as a military airfield.
This information, presented by some Israeli and American media and initially treated with certain skepticism, has now been proved by the report of the American private analytical agency Stratfor known around the world as “the shadow CIA”. Here is a quotation from this report:
Satellite imagery of the Bassel al Assad international airport near Latakia confirms the information of Russia performing military-transport flights to this airfield where the Russians have allegedly been constructing a base. The satellite imagery taken on 4 September shows a newly built aircraft control tower, new asphalt, and containers presumably used as mobile housing units. Construction work is under way on the whole territory of the airport. There are traces of excavations alongside the full length of the runway. Most likely, the airport is being prepared for servicing heavy transport aircraft”.
As can be seen in the satellite image, the following infrastructure facilities are currently under construction:
helicopter pads;
an aircraft control tower;
mobile housing units.
Judging by the nature of the work, the second stage might well include constructing aircraft shelters, take-off and landing training sites, and an equipment repair area. At the moment the runway expansion work is under way. In the nearest future we can expect installing on the airfield ground-based electronic warfare units and radar stations, as well as building a center for training air-defense specialists.
The runway expansion work suggests that the airfield is planned to receive heavy aircraft on a regular basis. Stratfor notes: Having built an airbase, Russia will have far more possibilities to back up the government troops providing them with air support”. Expanding the runway might serve a different purpose, though – the simultaneous take-off of several aircraft.
The first indirect evidence of the Latakia airfield being renovated appeared on 6 September; it was Alexander Tkachenko ferry going through the Bosporus with several dozens of army fuel drums and fire engineering on board.
The next day first Russian transport aircraft was noticed landing at the Bassel al Assad airport. Here are all the flights that have been registered so far in the chronological order:
7 September – An-124 (RA – 82039) Chkalovskyi – Latakia;
7 September – Il-62M (RA – 86496) Chkalovskyi – Latakia;
8 September – An-124 (RA – 82035) Pskov – Mozdok – Latakia;
9 September – An-124 (RA – 82039) Mozdok – Latakia;
9 September – An-124 (RA – 82040) Mozdok – Latakia;
10 September – An-124 (RA – 82035) Mozdok – Latakia;
11 September – An-124 (RA – 82035) Chkalovskyi – Latakia;
11 September – An-124 (RA – 82039) Chkalovskyi – Latakia;
11 September – An-124 (RA – 82040) Chkalovskyi – Latakia – Mozdok;
13 September – An-124 (RA – 82040) Mozdok – Latakia.
RA – 82040 (11 September), leading the aircraft group of the three, had to turn back – presumably, ordered by Iraq – and later on landed in Mozdok. The other two aircraft (82039 and 82035) successfully landed in Latakia and came back to Russia the following day.
Among all the flights to Syria listed above the RA-82035 one from 8 September seems to be of particular interest. Having left its base (Seschi, Bryanskaya Oblast) on the previous day, this aircraft’s first destination was Pskov, where it got loaded up and only after that headed for Syria. For most Russians Pskov is invariably associated with these three things – the Pskov fortress, the Trinity Cathedral, and the paratroopers. Accordingly, all the interested parties arrived at a not surprising conclusion that it was the paratroopers the aircraft had transported to Syria. That is a rational supposition, but there might well be others.
Pskovskaya Oblast is known to be rich in military units and here are some of them that might relate to this flight:
the 656th separate guards field engineering battalion (m/u 452930);
the 7th separate repair and maintenance battalion (m/u 63320);
the 1682nd separate battalion of material support (m/u 42689);
the 353rd artillery ammunition depot (m/u 01706);
the 2098th artillery armaments depot (m/u 64527).
The version of the Russian paratroopers having been deployed to Latakia might prove true; however, we are quite skeptical about it. Clearly there is no involvement of the Russian troops in the warfare in Syria at the moment; the only task for our soldiers to perform is the protection of the two military facilities – the logistics base in Tartus and the military airfield in Latakia. But this for decades has been marines’, not paratroopers’ duty.
As for the idea that the aircraft might have transported from Pskov armaments and ammunition, we regard it as highly dubious as well. Firstly, it would have been much more rational to load the aircraft up in the warehouses near Mozdok where our military planes do perform flights from; secondly, all military exports pass through Rosoboronexport, which renders the hypothesis of such a secretive delivery ridiculous.
Rather, under the current circumstances, the Russian aircraft in question might have transported engineering and repair and maintenance units. The construction of military facilities abroad is normally carried out by local contractors. Their functionality, however, is quite limited – building mobile housing units, roads, fences, and embankments is nearly as much as they are usually trusted with, all complicated work being done by army’s engineer corps, particularly as regards building military bases. Given that our base in Latakia is being constructed in record time (according to the media), we can confirm with full confidence that there are Russian engineer and repair and maintenance units taking active part in it.
As for the cargo of the rest aircraft, we cannot but guess. The official media calls these flights “humanitarian”, transporting material necessary for constructing a camp for 1,000 refugees, the theory we willingly accept but for one reservation – only two aircraft rendered humanitarian aid as such, which our media in fact reported. All others, as we presume, delivered to Latakia electronics and construction materials required for the new military base.
The subtitled video “Russia delivers humanitarian aid to Syria” is here -