While Obama is campaigning on behalf of Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin is making friends.
Russian strategic bombers with full payloads delivered their first airstrikes on terrorist targets in Syria operating from an Iranian airbase, the Russian Defence Ministry said, after Moscow deployed Russian aircraft to an Iranian air force base to widen its campaign in Syria. The ministry said the strikes, by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers, were launched from Iran's Hamadan air base.
Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three bombers and a Russian military transport plane apparently inside Iran, but said it was unclear how many Russian bombers had arrived there.
This was the first time that Russia has struck targets inside Syria from Iran since it launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.
Moscow and Tehran signed a military agreement allowing Russian aircraft to station at Hamadan Airport in western Iran, and according to Iran's Natioanl Security Council the cooperation between the two countries in Syria is “strategic."
Tehran has agreed to share its military facilities and capacities with Moscow, confirming dedication to strategic cooperation in fighting against terrorism in Syria, Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani told Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) in an interview on Tuesday.
Russian media said the Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which had already conducted many strikes on militants in Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's air base inside Syria.
According to RT, the main benefit for the Russian Air Force is a drastic reduction in flying time to terrorist targets in Syria. Russian long-range bombers delivered airstrikes in Syria from a base in Mozdok, Russia, and had to cover a distance of about 2,000km to get to Syrian airspace. Now that distance is reduced to some 700km, so time-sensitive airstrikes can be delivered immediately and more cheaply.
The Al-Masdar website was the first to publish photos of at least three Tu-22M3 bombers and Il-76 military transport jets in Iran.
As Reuters notes, the move shows Russia is expanding its role and presence in the Middle East and comes amid Russian media reports Moscow has asked Iran and Iraq for permission to fire cruise missiles at Syrian targets across their territory from the Caspian Sea. The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State and militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces.
The bombers had been protected by fighters based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province, it said.
Meanwhile, military cooperation between Iran and Russia is developing rapidly. In January this year, Moscow and Tehran signed military cooperation deal that implies wider collaboration in personnel training and counter-terrorism activities. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan signed the document during a visit by Russia’s top brass to the Iranian capital.
The Kremlin won't stop there: on Monday, Interfax reported that Moscow has once again requested Iran and Iraq to allow cruise missiles to fly through their respective airspace to deliver strikes on terrorist targets in Syria. Also on Monday, Russia launched tactical naval drills in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. The warships taking part in the exercise are to engage in live artillery and missile fire “under simulated battlefield conditions.” The Mediterranean force includes two fast attack guided missile craft, both armed with Kalibr-NK cruise missile complexes equipped with eight missiles each.
Simultaneously, a group of four attack guided missile craft (each armed with 8 Kalibr-NK cruise missiles) has been deployed in the southwestern part of the Caspian Sea, also to perform live artillery and missile strikes. On October 7, 2015, four Russian Navy warships in the Caspian Sea fired a total of 26 missiles at positions in Syria held by IS, Shoigu announced. The missiles traveled some 1,500km, changing route several times, and eliminating 11 targets.
So as the US is boosting its campaign in Libya "to fight ISIS", Russia is likewise expanding its geopolitical presence, and in the process making a deeper strategic relationship with Iran, which contrary to the Obama administration's repeated overtures, appears to be gravitating progressively closer to America's cold war nemesis.