Putin Seeks Approval for Air Force’s Indefinite Syria Stay

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked parliament to ratify the Russian air force’s indefinite stay in Syria almost a year after the official beginning of Russia’s military operations there.

The Russian Ministry of Defense struck a deal last August with the Syrian government to provide assistance to Damascus in battling militants in the country, using Syrian facilities rent-free and without worry of compensation for damages. Putin’s push for airstrikes were approved by parliament on the last day of September and the first official Russian airstrikes fell before dusk.

Now Putin has submitted the agreement for parliamentary ratification, state news agency Itar-Tass reported. Putin’s decision to seek parliamentary approval for the exact terms of Russia’s intervention are unclear, but the lower house of parliament’s deputy speaker said it was bound to be approved.

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“There is no doubt that the document of the agreement between Russia and Syria on the indefinite deployment of a Russian air force group in the region of the Hmeymim airbase, which has been submitted for ratification will be supported by the majority of members of parliament and approved,” Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak told Tass.

While there has been no major opposition in parliament to Putin’s actions in Syria, a parliamentary mandate for his operation in Syria would strengthen the mandate of Russian forces deployed there. Under the current deal with the Syrian government, Russian troops do not have to leave Syrian territory unless the Syrian government asks them to.

“The one big part of this move is that it highlights Russia’s longstanding plans to remain in Syria long-term, despite declaring that the bulk of its forces would retreat earlier this year,” Keir Giles, Russian military expert at U.K. think tank Chatham House says. “What this is is establishing a permanent expeditionary force in another country and calling it a drawdown.”

Putin declared that Russia had achieved its set goal for intervention in Syria in March and said most of the contingent deployed there would return; however, it is unclear if this has materialized. Russia occupies the same number of facilities as prior and has even since admitted that its special forces are on the ground, as well as reporting at least as many casualties since March as prior.