When you are a major nuclear power and you want to make a secretive deployment to a faraway ally, what is the first thing you do? Draw up the terms, apparently, and sign a contract.
That’s what the Kremlin did with Syria in August, according to an unusual document posted this week on a Russian government website that details the terms of its aerial support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Among other revelations in the seven-page contract dated Aug. 26, 2015, the Kremlin has made an open-ended time commitment to its military deployment in Syria, and either side can terminate it with a year’s notice.
Russian military personnel and shipments can pass in and out of Syria at will and aren’t subject to controls by Syrian authorities, the document says. Syrians can’t enter Russian bases without Russia’s permission. And Russia disclaims any responsibility for damage caused by its activities inside Syria. Since Russia’s bombing campaign started at the end of September, Assad’s forces have been able to recapture some territory from rebels, and much of the humanitarian aid to the country has come to a halt. A war that already looked intractable now seems more so.
Russia has deployed about 70 military planes to Syria, according to Russian news accounts, and the Defense Ministry has said that it has flown 5,500 sorties.
At the time the document was signed, Russia was publicly denying any stepped-up military commitment to Syria. Over the month of September, as the Russian military radically stepped up shipments to its military bases near the Syrian coast, the official Kremlin line was that they were simply performing routine maintenance there.
But two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an address at the U.N. General Assembly, he announced that Russia would begin bombing in Syria to fight the Islamic State. Western governments have said that in reality, Russia has concentrated on raiding territories of Syria held by other rebel groups arrayed against Assad, including those backed by the United States.
“I think this is an unprecedented document. It falls under the logic of operations of the Russian side in Syria,” said the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Konstantin Kosachev, the Interfax news agency reported Friday.
“This logic means that our operations need a firm, and clear, legal foundation understandable to everyone,” Kosachev said.
We’ve translated most of the document underneath. The signatures are illegible and no names are listed in the document itself, but Moscow’s Vedomosti newspaper reported, citing an unnamed source, that it was Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij.
Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic on deployment of an aviation group of the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic, further on referred to as “parties to the agreement,” based on the provisions of the Treaty of Friendship between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Syrian Arab Republic from October 8, 1980, as well as agreements signed between the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian Arab Republic on July 7, 1994, and in accordance with the mutual aspiration to protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the Russian Federation and Syrian Arab Republic;
Recognizing that the deployment of Russian aviation group on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic is aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the region. Its purpose is purely defensive, and is not directed against any other state;
Confirming the commonness of tasks of fighting against terrorism and extremism;
Realizing the necessity of consolidating efforts in counteraction to terrorist threats;
Agreed on the following:
Terms of the Agreement
Subject of the Agreement
Composition of the Russian Aviation group
Importing and exporting of property and travel of personnel
Immunity and privileges
Syria has also pledged to exempt the Russian air group from any direct and indirect taxes.
Settlement of claims
The Syrian Arab republic exempts the Russian aviation group from any direct and indirect taxes.
Amendments to the Agreement
Upon agreement between the parties the present agreement can be amended. The amendments shall be stipulated in separate protocols.
Settlement of disagreements
All disagreements arising from using or interpreting of the present agreement shall be settled through consultations.
The agreement is temporarily used from the date of its signing and enters into force as of the date of notification via diplomatic channels of fulfillment of the parties’ internal procedures.
Term of the Agreement and its Termination
This agreement is for an indefinite period. It can be terminated by any of the signatories upon written notification. In this case, the agreement loses validity a year after the notification has been received by the other side.
The agreement was signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015, in Russian and Arabic, with both texts being equally authentic.
THE WASHINGTON POST