Russia has set up a helicopter base at an airport in the north-eastern Syrian city of Qamishli, the Russian Defence Ministry’s Zvezda TV channel said on Thursday, a move designed to increase Moscow’s control over events on the ground there.
The deployment comes less than a month after U.S. forces withdrawing from northern Syria were pelted with potatoes by residents after President Donald Trump abruptly ordered them out.
Two Mi-35 helicopter gunships were shown flying low over desert terrain before landing at the new base, which is protected by mobile Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems.
Only three helicopters, including an Mi-8 military transport helicopter, have so far been deployed at the new facility, Zvezda said, but more will follow.
Russia has two permanent military facilities in Syria, an air base in Latakia Province used for air strikes against forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad, and a naval facility at Tartus on the Mediterranean
It was unclear if the new base would be permanent, but it suggests Moscow is seeking greater control over events near the Turkish border where Russian and Turkish forces carry out joint patrols.
The patrols, agreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, are meant to ensure the border area is free of Kurdish YPG fighters that Ankara views as a threat.