Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement with the Syrian government on Wednesday to ensure a Russian presence at the Hmeymim airbase for another half century, with options to extend the lease in 25-year increments.
To be precise, the deal allows Russian forces to continue using the airbase for another 49 years from now. The base, located in Latakia province, has been used by Russia to conduct airstrikes against opponents of the Assad regime since September 2015.
Damascus signed off on its end of the deal in January, while the Russian parliament approved it this month.
The UK Independent notes that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad visited the airbase to inspect its equipment and personnel recently and was photographed sitting in the cockpit of a Russian SU-35 fighter jet. Russian Olympic athletes have also visited the Hmeymim base to share physical training tips.
“The Syrian people will not forget that its Russian brothers stood next to them in this national war,” Assad wrote in the Hmeymim guestbook.
According to Russia’s TASS news service, the protocol signed by Putin also covers “issues related to the status of Russian servicemen, members of their families, and civilian personnel,” including their legal immunities and privileges while deployed to Syria. TASS states that the agreement will renew automatically in 25-year increments until terminated.
Although the deal gives Russia use of the airbase free of charge, Moscow is reportedly spending about $335,000 annually to maintain the facility. A May 2016 report from CNN described the base as “large, modern, and well-maintained,” mixing Syrian military structures with Russian container housing units. CNN also wrote of the “professionalism of the troops and the pristine state of the equipment they were using “
Iran also has military bases in Syria, to the great consternation of Israel, while the United States maintains temporary installations which the Syrian government considers illegal.