Iran says Russia's use of air base for strikes on Syria had ended 'for now'

A video grab reportedly showing a Russian bomber Tupolev Tu-22M3 conducting an airstrike.
A video grab reportedly showing a Russian bomber Tupolev Tu-22M3 conducting an airstrike. PHOTO: AFP/ RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY

DUBAI (Reuters/AFP) - Iran said on Monday (Aug 22) that Russia has stopped using an Iranian air base for strikes in Syria, a week after Moscow announced that its fighter bombers had flown from a base in Iran to hit targets in Syria.

"Russia has no base in Iran and is not stationed here. They did this (operation) and it is finished for now," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

Long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Nojeh air base, near the city of Hamedan, in north-west Iran to launch the air strikes last week, in a move which underscored Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran.

But the deployment - the first time a foreign power has used an Iranian base since World War II - triggered criticism from some Iranian parliamentarians who said it breached the Islamic Republic's Constitution.

Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan dismissed that criticism on Sunday, but also chided Moscow for publicising the move, describing it as showing off and a "betrayal of trust."

In a televised interview on Sunday, Mr Dehghan said Russia had been "inconsiderate" and was "showing off" by revealing its use of the air base.

"Naturally, the Russians are keen to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and that they are active in security issues in the region and the world," said defence minister Hossein Dehghan in an interview with Iran's Channel 2 television.

"There has been a kind of showing-off and inconsiderate attitude behind the announcement of this news," he said.

"We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay," Mr Dehghan was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.

He said there has been "no written agreement" between the two countries and the "operational cooperation" was temporary and limited to refuelling.

Iran and Russia are key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Teheran has remained relatively guarded about its precise involvement in the conflict.

The Islamic republic is also highly sensitive to any suggestion that it would allow foreign militaries to be based in its territory, which is outlawed under its constitution.

"We have collaborated and will continue to collaborate with Syria and Russia. Russia decided to bring in more planes and boost its speed and accuracy in operations," Mr Dehghan said.

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