Russia ceases using airbase in Iran for Syria strikes 'for now'

Iran says that Russia is no longer using the Nojeh airbase for strikes in Syria, after the deployment was criticized by the White House and some Iranian lawmakers.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP
In this frame grab from video provided by Russian Defense Ministry press service, Russian long range bomber Tu-22M3 flies during an air strike over the Aleppo region of Syria on Tuesday. Russia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Russian warplanes have taken off from a base in Iran to target Islamic State fighters in Syria.

Russia is no longer using Iran's Nojeh airbase for strikes in Syria, announced Iran's foreign ministry on Monday. 

Last week, the Iranian airbase was used by long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers to launch airstrikes against armed militants in Syria, marking the first time since World War II that an Iranian airbase has been used by a foreign power. 

"Russia has no base in Iran and is not stationed here. They did this [operation] and it is finished for now," said Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, as reported by Tasnim news agency.

The cooperative move drew criticism from the White House and some Iranian lawmakers, the latter of which claimed it was in violation of Iran's constitution, which prohibits "the establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes." 

In response, Iranian Defense Minister Mossein Dehghan defended letting Russia use Nojeh, but noted that the Iranian government has "not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay," the Fars news agency reported on Sunday. Mr. Dehghan added that there was "no written agreement" between Russia and Iran, though last week he said that Russia would be welcome to use the base "for as long as they need." 

As both countries provide military support to President Bashar al-Assad against the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other rebels in Syria, the unprecedented move by Iran is "a testament to its desire to achieve strategic gains and ensure that the high cost of its involvement in the Syrian war, including the loss of more than 400 Revolutionary Guard troops and a number of generals, not be in vain," the Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson reported last week

For Russia’s part, its decision to use the Shahid Nojeh military airbase in western Iran underscores its calculation that bolstering its nearly year-long overt military intervention – which began dramatically with Russia airstrikes launched from a base in the Syrian coastal town of Latakia – can help tip the battlefield in Assad's favor.

Perhaps just as significantly, the high-profile move allows both nations to ease their isolation, imposed by the US and the West, while spreading their regional influence through the use of hard power.

Russia's use of Nojeh was "unfortunate but not surprising," said the US state department last week. It said it was looking into whether the move was a violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231, which forbids the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran. 

Also on Monday, Iran unveiled its new missile defense system, Bavar 373, which is designed to intercept cruise missiles, drones, combat aircraft, and ballistic missiles. Dehghan said that Tehran has shown interest in buying Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, adding that the response from Moscow "has not been negative so far." Previously, the US has said it would use its veto power in the United Nations' Security Council to ban such a sale. 

This report contains material from Reuters. 

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