Russia 'showed-off' over use of Iran airbase for Syria strikes

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A still image, taken from video footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry on 18 August 2016, shows a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter based in Iran dropping bombs on Deir al-Zour province in SyriaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Using the Iranian airbase reduced the duration of the Russian bombers' missions

Russia has stopped using an Iranian airbase to bomb targets in Syria, both countries have said.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said the operation was "over for now" and the planes had gone.

Iran's Defence Minister Hossein Deghan had earlier criticised Russia for publicising the raids last week, saying it had exhibited a "show-off" attitude.

Russia for its part has confirmed that all of its planes used from Iran for Syria strikes are now back in Russia.

Russia. like Iran, is a key ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Last Tuesday, Russia's defence ministry announced that Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 strike fighters had used the Shahid Nojeh airbase near the western city of Hamedan to carry out air strikes on "terrorists" in Syria.

The raids were the first carried by Russia from a third country since it began an air campaign against Mr Assad's opponents almost a year ago, and also the first launched from Iranian soil by a foreign military since World War Two.

Russia now says that aircraft which were based at the Hamedan air base are no longer located there and have returned to the Russian Federation.

Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that future use of the base will now only take place "on the basis of mutual agreements between the two countries on the fight against terrorism and will depend on developments in Syria".

The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, previously lauded the "strategic" co-operation with Russia. But some MPs complained that it breached the Islamic Republic's constitution, which prohibits allowing foreign militaries to be based on its territory.

In an interview with state TV on Monday, Gen Deghan stressed that Russia would only use the Nojeh airbase "for a very short and fixed span, corresponding [to an] operation in Syria".

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The TU-22M3s had previously been forced to fly missions from Russia

Gen Deghan was asked why Russia had chosen to reveal its presence there whereas Iran had not.

"The Russians are interested to show they are a superpower to guarantee their share in the political future of Syria and, of course, there has been a kind of show-off and ungentlemanly [attitude] in this field."

Gen Deghan explained that Russia had "decided to bring in more planes and boost its speed and accuracy in operations".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Russia's deployment to Iran came amid an escalation in fighting in and around Aleppo

"Therefore, it needed to refuel in an area closer to the operation. That's why they used the Nojeh base. But we have definitely not given them a military base."

Hours later, Mr Qasemi announced that Russia's deployment had ended.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Bahram Qasemi left open the possibility of future Russian combat flights from Iran

"It was a specific, authorised mission and it's over for now. They conducted it and they are gone now," he was quoted by the official news agency as saying.

The US, which backs the opposition to Syria's president, had said Russia's use of the Iranian base was "unfortunate but not surprising".