Amid US Threats, Assad Appears At The One Place He’s Safe—Russia’s Syrian Air Base

No American Tomahawks will be landing on this base.

byTyler Rogoway|
Syria photo

Just hours after new, albeit somewhat fragmented threats from the Trump Administration warning of more strikes on the Assad regime hit headlines, the embattled Syrian strongman himself popped up at the one place in Syria where his safety is virtually guaranteed—Russia's Hmeimim air base south of the port city of Latakia. 

Assad visited his Russian backers' outpost—which Moscow has an indefinite lease on—checking out different vehicles and technologies on display, and reviewing Russia's air operations over his tattered country. He was joined by Russia's Army Chief of Staff, General Valery Gerasimov for the tour. 

We have a fascinating gallery to share from the surprise VIP visit.

The general must have hitched a ride from Moscow on this IL-62M. Yikes!, AP
Note the Mi-8 in the background its equipped with the President-S directed-energy infrared countermeasure system. , AP
Here the mobile Pantsir-S1 short-range air defense system, some armed cars, and some of the gear of the Russian Marines based at the installation use are on display. There are even some real-live Russian Marines on show as well!, AP
Good times in Syria! , AP
Assad mingled with Russian Air Force troops, in the background a lineup of SU-35Ss., AP
Assad climbed into an Su-35S, Russia's most advanced active duty fighter. Note the bomb mission markings. , AP
Assad peering over the long nose of the massive Su-35. , AP

Assad also checked out some heavier Russian armor that supposedly calls the base home, including a surprise appearance by Russia advanced BMPT-72 Terminator II armored fighting vehicle. The type was supposedly passed over for T-15 Armata series, which makes its presence in Syria strange. Then again, Russia has exported a few of the AFVs and the country's involvement in Syria has been a Russia arms showcase as much as anything else. Maybe Moscow intends to use the vehicle to fight against Syrian rebels and thus give it the badge of "combat tested" in the hopes of more export sales.

Syrian President's Facebook page
  , Syrian President's Facebook page
Assad checks out some exhibits inside the base's operations building., Syrian President's Facebook page
Syrian President's Facebook page
This appears to be Russia's quaint version of a combined air operations center at the base. , Syrian President's Facebook page
Assad likes the hardware!, Syrian President's Facebook page
Assad examining some of the Russian light arms at the base. , Syrian President's Facebook page
A Su-34 Fullback armed up with dumb bombs, which comes as no surprise. , Syrian President's Facebook page
Stash of weapons captured from rebel fighters. , Syrian President's Facebook page
More weapons captured from enemy forces. , Syrian President's Facebook page
Newly arrived and armed-up Su-27SM3s. It is the first time the type has operated over Syria and combined with the Su-30s, Su-34s, Su-35s already at the base, the type's presence is a signal of a major escalation in air defense capabilities. Their arrival has come after the incident where a USN Super Hornet downed a Syrian AF Su-22 Fitter near Al Raqqa., Syrian President's Facebook page
 From the Syrian President's Facebook page: "President Assad writes a word in the visitor log:With all the happiness and pride of the day I visit the base of military have, and meet fighters and pilots from the Federal Republic of Russia friendly to Syria, to contribute to their Syrian brothers, from the heroes of the Syrian Arab Army, in defending the right, justice and people's rights Adopted by international laws, Humanitarian Ethics and the Syrian people's defence of their homeland, unity and sovereignty, resistance and struggle against terrorists from various parts of the earth..Russia has provided arms and ammunition to support Syria in its war against terrorism, but most importantly, it has also provided blood, which is the most precious thing a man can offer to his brother.. and the Syrian people will not forget his Russian brothers standing next to him. In this national war. Salute all Russian fighters, to lead the base base, to the Russian military command, and to President Vladimir Putin's great tribute..Basha"r Al-Assad 27/6/201, Syrian President's Facebook page

The base remains stocked full of combat aircraft. Recent satellite imagery dated June 8th of the northern portion of the base shows dozens of Russian combat aircraft dotting its aprons, including the country's most advance types. For the first time, the base is now hosting Su-27Sm3s in addition to SU-30s, Su-34s and Su-35s. The installation has also been a bastion for Syrian aircraft following America's Tomahawk missile attack on Shayrat Air Base. 

Russia's presence in western Syria, especially at its expanded port facility in Tartus and its air base featured above, gives Assad places to hide should the US move to strike against him in the future. Even if the US went after regime targets, such as the palaces and hideouts used by Assad and his henchmen, in a full-on air campaign, America nor its allies will strike a Russian installation as doing so would pretty much be an invite to World War III. 

Not just that but Russia has said they now protect Assad's western airspace, and his regime and military capability, with their own advanced air defense capabilities—which include S-300, S-400, and Pantsir-S1 ground-based air defense systems, as well as fighters. They have also said that they are going to rebuild Syria's own dated air defenses with modern ones. As such, attacking Assad in a meaningful way will be far tougher and much more geopolitically perilous than before 59 Tomahawks were launched at Shayrat airfield in early April. 

Also in regards to the White House's recent warning to Assad over further gas attacks, that threat was prompted via intelligence that said there were suspicious activities around a known nerve gas related hangar at the very same

base the US supposedly struck "decisively" in April with roughly $80 million worth of missiles. This is just further proof that the largely token missile barrage did next to nothing to neuter Assad's gas capabilities yet alone his military caabilities, and proves once again just how pointless and ineffective that whole largely made for TV operation really was. 

And now Assad knows to hide himself and his best gear under Russia's umbrella should tensions escalate and another punitive US airstrike appear immanent. 

Contact the author: