Does Russia need a military base in Iran?

The deployment of Russian bombers in Iran will significantly change the alignment of forces in the fight against terrorism.

The deployment of Russian bombers in Iran will significantly change the alignment of forces in the fight against terrorism.
Six Russian long-distance Tu-22M3 and four Su-34 frontal bombers were sent to the Khamadan Airport in Iran on August 16. Military experts say this move was motivated both by economic reasons and the necessity to change the course of the battle for Aleppo.

Aircraft from Russia's long-distance and frontal aviation were sent on August 16 to the Khamadan airport base in Iran. The group of six Tu-22M3 and four Su-34 bombers is operating in turns in the northeastern areas of Syria. During combat missions in the Deirez-Zor Province on August 17, the planes destroyed an IS command post, killing over 150 terrorists.

Why does Russia need a base in Khamadan?

Initially the Tu-22M3 long-distance bombers were taking off from the Mozdok Airport in Northern Ossetia (1,725 km south of Moscow). They flew over the Caspian Sea to Iran, Iraq and back. Each flight covered around 5,000 kilometers on each sortie. Full fuel tanks meant each Tu-22M3's arsenal was loaded only one-third, carrying from six to eight tons of warheads.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, it was necessary to relocate the planes to the combat zone and increase the effectiveness of the mission flights.

Retired Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the International Centre for Geopolitical Analysis, said the Khmeimim Airbase in Syria, currently being used by the front line aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces, is not suitable for the Tu-22M3. The runway is too short and there is a lack of necessary infrastructure.

Consequently, Russia asked Iran if it could deploy its planes at an Iranian base.

"We have increased the effectiveness of the long-distance flights at least threefold. Now each Tu-22M3 bomber carries about 20 tons of warheads and receives four-five targets for each flight," explained Ivashov.

Also, Khamadan is not a Russian military base in the typical understanding of the word. 

"The term 'base' can include various meanings. It can be a full-fledged military town or have dozens of combat planes with military personnel servicing them. Khamadan is not Khmeimim 2," said Ruslan Pukhov, Director of the Moscow Centre for Strategy and Technology Analysis. 

Returning Aleppo

Ilya Kramnik, military observer from the publication believes the deployment of Russian bombers in Iran will significantly change the alignment of forces in the fight against terrorism.

Sending the Tu-22M3s and Su-34s to Iran does not mean the return of Russian troops to the Middle East. This is a tactical move and a qualitative reinforcement of Russian aerospace forces while preserving the number of planes participating in the operation," said Kramnik.

He said Russia's main aim today is for the government troops to obtain victory in Aleppo.

"IS units are trying to reverse the course of battle with terrorist-suicide bombers who put heavy moral-psychological pressure on the Syrian troops. It is one thing is to stop a military vehicle carrying infantrymen who want to live, but another thing completely when an armoured vehicle is charging at you with dozens of kilograms of explosives with a driver who intends to kill himself and everyone else," added Kramnik.

He remarked that the Russian Aerospace Forces are now faced with the challenge of destroying a camp that prepares suicide bombers, something that will help the Syrian government army change the course of battle for one of the key cities in Syria.

Military-political dividends

Moscow and Teheran are changing from the pragmatic business model of "armament supplier-buyer" to military cooperation, analysts believe. It is too early now to speak about a full-fledged convergence of the two countries. At present, it is only about increased cooperation in the war against the terrorists.

"Today it is easier to count the neighbours with whom Russia doesn't have problems than those with whom it does. And now we can see that with Iran, Russia is at peace not only in words but also in reality," said Pukhov.

He noted that the aim of the Russian operation in Syria was not only to support the Bashar al-Assad government and to fight terrorism, but also to get out of the political-diplomatic isolation in which the country found itself after the Ukrainian crisis.

"Basically, we forced our Western partners to sit down at a table and decide the Middle East issue together. Khamadan is another signal that Russia does not intend to renounce its interests," concluded Pukhov.

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