'Influential Factor': Russia Continues to Gain Clout in the Middle East

© Photo : Russian Defence MinistryThe Russian air group at the Hmeymim airfield in Syria. file photo
The Russian air group at the Hmeymim airfield in Syria. file photo - Sputnik International
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Russia's current actions in the Middle East show how Moscow can catch the West by surprise, according to Thomas Avenarius, a journalist writing for the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands (File) - Sputnik International
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It seems that the West has been caught by surprise by Russia's current actions in the Middle East, journalist Thomas Avenarius wrote in an article published by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.

His remarks came as Russia started to use Iran's Hamadan airbase for the first time in its anti-terrorism campaign in Syria.

Avenarius specifically cited the West's inability to prevent Moscow from pursuing its current Middle East policy. According to him, "the head of the Kremlin manages to catch his opponents off guard, and no one can stop him from doing so."

© AP Photo / WarfareWWIn this photo taken on Aug. 15, 2016, a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber stands on the tarmac at an air base near Hamedan, Iran
In this photo taken on Aug. 15, 2016, a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber stands on the tarmac at an air base near Hamedan, Iran - Sputnik International
In this photo taken on Aug. 15, 2016, a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber stands on the tarmac at an air base near Hamedan, Iran

The journalist believes that Russia has managed to fill the vacuum created due to the withdrawal of most US forces from the Middle East which coincided with the pull-out from Iraq. He sees Moscow's move last September to assist the Syrian government as the turning point. 

The use of the Russian air force in Syria gave Moscow a significant advantage, helping it to stabilize the position of President Bashar Assad and once again turning Russia into "an influential factor in the Middle East arena", according to Avenarius.

Moscow managed to find allies "on the battlefield" in Syria, Avenarius wrote, pointing to an about-face in the Iranian leaders' stance on Russia. 

While former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini slammed the Soviet Union as "the devil's superpower ", his successor allowed Russian bombers to use an Iranian airbase, Avenarius said, adding that those who managed to find common ground with Iran may soon strengthen their position in Iraq.

With the US currently losing its Sunni partners, Russia could become an "unofficial partner of the Shiite axis" in the Middle East, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, according to Avenarius.

"The failure of the 'Arab Spring' strengthened Islamists' positions and discredited the Western model of society. The US policy in Syria is seen as a grim joke, and not only by rebels. Moscow presents itself as an organizing force, which at least finds a friendly response," the journalist concluded.

On August 15, an undisclosed number of Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic long-range strategic bombers and Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighters left the airfield in the Russian town of Mozdok in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and landed at Hamadan Airbase in Iran.

Russian Su-24 tactical bombers at the Hmeimim airbase in the Latakia Governorate of Syria - Sputnik International
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Russian bombers deployed to Iran carried out several massive airstrikes against Daesh and al-Nusra Front targets in Syria earlier this week.

On Thursday, the Tu-22M3s and Su-34s destroyed five large depots with weapons, ammunitions and fuel, as well as six command and control centers and armored military hardware in the Deir ez-Zor province, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported. "A large number of militants" were killed in the operation.

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan, for his part, said that Russia can use Iran's Hamadan Airbase to strike jihadist targets in Syria for as long as needed.

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