Russia is setting up a helicopter base at a civilian airport in the north-eastern Syrian city Qamishli, the Russian Defence Ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said, showing footage of helicopter gunships arriving.
The new base is protected by Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems and three helicopters, including two Mi-35 gunships and a Mi-8 military transport helicopter are deployed with more to follow.
Zvezda broadcast footage of Russian military police protecting the base. Armoured vehicles and ground support crews for the helicopters were shown, as was a weather station and a doctor’s surgery.
“This is the first group of Russian military helicopters in northern Syria It’s a historic moment. From this day on our aviation group will operate permanently at Qamishli’s city airport,” said Pavel Remnev, Zvezda’s correspondent.
The Russian deployment comes less than a month after US forces withdrawing from the area were pelted with potatoes by local residents after President Donald Trump ordered them back from parts of Syria.
Russia previously used military helicopters to patrol near Syria’s border with Turkey to protect Russian military police on the ground.
The new base will allow them to do so more effectively, Zvezda said.
Patrols are carried out with Turkish forces and designed to monitor an agreement struck by Moscow and Ankara after Turkey launched an offensive across its border with Syrian rebels, seeking to push out Kurdish YPG fighters it views as a national security threat.