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Russia says its military will stay in Syria for foreseeable future, following parliamentary agreement Open in fullscreen

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Russia says its military will stay in Syria for foreseeable future, following parliamentary agreement

Russia's presence in Syria is one step closer to becoming permanent [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 July, 2017

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Moscow has gave the green light for the semi-permanent presence of Russian military aircraft in Syria.
Russia's parliament gave the green light for the long-term deployment of a military force to Syria, following the signing of a protocol in Moscow on Friday.

The agreement will see Russia's Hmeimem airbase on Syria's coast become a semi-permanent fixture, after the parliamentary body sanctioned an agreement between Moscow and Damascus.

The upper house is expected to approve the protocol next week.

Deputy Defence Minister Nikolay Pankov said this will help legalise Moscow's military activities in Syria "within an international framework" and enable Russian pilots to "fully execute [their] activity".

Members of Syria's opposition consider Russia's military presence in the country as an act of occupation.

The cost of maintaining Hmeimem will come to just over $335,000 a year.

Russia will be in charge of air defence, security, and law within the boundaries of Hmeimem.

Syrian regime forces will manage security outside the perimeter of the base, which is located next to Latakia's Bassel al-Assad International Airport.

Russia has a large military force at the airfield, including M-24 helicopter gunships and Su-35 fighter jets.

The Syrian regime has also stationed some of its war planes within the shadows of the Russian base to ward off potential US attacks.

This followed US cruise missile strikes on Shayrat airfield - believed to be the launchpad for a devastating chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun which left scores of civilians dead.
[click to enlarge]

Russia and Syria agreed the long-term lease of the Latakia air base for 49 years with the possibility of extension.

Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs Leonid Slutsky believes Russian armed forces will remain in Syria for the forseeable future.

"Given the situation with terrorist groups in Syria, we, unfortunately, realise that our military will be there for long time," he told Russia's state news agency.

"We will always stay at the forefront of the fight against terrorism in Syria, preventing its expansion into Russia and Europe."

Moscow - like the Syrian regime - refers to all armed groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad as "terrorists".

Russia launched a ferocious air campaign in Syria on September 2015, which has seen homes, hospitals and schools targeted. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the last two years of Russian bombing.

Although Moscow insists it is targeting the Islamic State group, the overwhelming majority of airstrikes have been on rebel areas.

Russia is also expected to deploy ground troops as monitors - with Washington's blessing - to help maintain a ceasefire in Syria.

It is thought that Russia already has hundreds of special forces and mercenaries fighting on the ground in Syria.

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