Russia lawmakers mull indefinite military presence in Syria
The Russian parliament on Friday debated ratifying a treaty with Syria that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country, with lawmakers strongly backing the deal in a show of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The development comes against the backdrop of a Syrian army onslaught, backed by Russian warplanes, on the rebel-held eastern part of the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. Since the collapse of a US-Russia-brokered cease-fire last month, ties between Moscow and Washington have grown even more strained.
The two powers support opposite sides in the war –Moscow has been a staunch Assad ally and the United States backs Syrian rebels trying to oust him. Russia’s air campaign in Syria, launched a year ago, has reversed the tide of war and helped Assad’s forces regain some key ground. Moscow says the goal of its military operation is to assist the Syrian army in the fight against terrorism and rejects accusations of targeting civilians in relentless airstrikes.
Lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled State Duma are to vote on the deal later in the day. The treaty allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, Assad’s Alawite heartland, as long as it wants. The deal was signed in August 2015 in Damascus, a month before the Russian air campaign began.
Russia also has a naval base in Syria’s port of Tartus, the only such outpost outside the former Soviet Union. That base is not covered by the treaty, and some lawmakers said it could be subject of a separate deal.