Russia Sets up Second Air Base in Aleppo Province, Collaborates with Turkey

In addition to the first Russian air base at Hmeimim, southeast of Latakia in western Syria, Russian air force engineers arrived this week to start building a second air base at Akhtarin in the northeaster province of Aleppo, at a facility used hitherto by Russian paratroops.
Small contingents of Turkish special forces and intelligence operatives arrived shortly after, marking the first instance of Russian-Turkish military collaboration in northern Syria.
The Russian work teams were sighted laying new runways for air force fighters and bombers and building emplacements for advanced anti-air missile batteries.
Then, Monday, Nov. 21, a Russian senator, Viktor Ozerov, reported that Hmeimim too would undergo a “significant upgrade” with new infrastructure to accommodate its “unlimited use.” A second runway would be added to support the “high intensity of activity as a result of operations launched from the airport,” he said.
Hmeimim would also be expanded in area to encompass defensive positions, more residential and technical facilities and a broader exclusion zone around the base.
Ozerov did not refer to the work ongoing at Akhtarin.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources have learned that Moscow decided to establish a second air base in northeastern Syria after finding that the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier anchored off the Syrian coast was not up to its task as a seaborne air base for Russian fighter and bomber operations over Syria.
This was determined finally on Nov. 13, when a Russian MiG-29, returning from a reconnaissance mission over Aleppo, crashed in to the sea after running out of fuel. The jet had been put on hold and circled overhead as two planes ahead faced an emergency and the runway had to be repaired. Both the MiGs’ engines cut out and it dropped into the Mediterranean.
The Kuznetsov had still not returned to full operational mode by week’s end; no more than one or two jets were able to take off from its deck.
On Sept. 30, DEBKA Weekly 726 disclosed the arrival of giant floating diggers for work on the expansion of the Russian naval facilities in the Syrian port of Tartus.
This week, Interfax news agency followed up on this disclosure, citing Russian military circles as reporting that the Russian Defense Ministry is moving ships, anti-sabotage boats and special equipment to make Tartus a full-scale naval base. The same sources reported that on Thursday, Nov. 17, the MB-31 sea tug took off from the Russian Black Sea Fleet with an SPK-46 150 floating derrick and sailed in the direction of the Syrian coast.
A KIL-158 carrying several anti-sabotage Raptor-class boats passed through the Bosporus later.
These naval movements followed on a statement by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov that the necessary documentation for establishing a permanent naval base was under preparation.
But the Russian navy had clearly jumped the gun on this formality. Moscow is racing full speed ahead – apparently bent on exploiting the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations in Washington to expand its military, aerial and naval presence in Syria.

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