Two Mi-8 multirole helicopters and a Mi-35 military transport helicopter belonging to the Russian Aerospace Forces have landed at the Tabqa airbase in north-western Syria. Footage of the Russian helicopters arriving at the old American base was published by the Russian TV channel Zvezda. The clip shows helicopters landing on a broken-down runway, where they are met by Syrian government forces.
“For the first time in six years – a historic moment – helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces are landing [here]: two Mi-8s and a Mi-35,” said the TV channel’s correspondent.
The Tabqa airfield is a Syrian airbase roughly 5 km south of the city of al-Tabqa. The airport was captured by ISIS militants in 2014. In summer 2017, they were driven out by the oppositionist Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which were allied with the US. The entire city and surrounding province were subsequently under SDF control for more than two years, and a US military base was established at the airfield.
Turkey began its “Operation Peace Spring” in Syria on October 9, dispatching forces into the Syrian territory inhabited by Kurds. The stated goal of the operation was to establish a safe zone along Turkey’s border, combat terrorists, and repatriate Syrian refugees. At the start of the operation, the US military abandoned its bases near Manbij, Kobani and Raqqa in order to avoid being caught in the crossfire between the Kurds and the Turkish army. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that US troops could also have come under fire from Syrian and Russian forces.
On October 17, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence agreed to suspend Turkey’s military operation in Syria for 120 hours, allowing the Kurds to move out of the buffer zone that Turkey aims to create along the border. In response, Washington promised not to impose new sanctions on Ankara.