When Iran offered Russia its base in efforts to strengthen their cooperation in the Syrian arena, it stunned the world. On August 16th, Russian bombers hit militant targets inside Syria from the Iranian Hamadan air base using Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers. This was the first time since World War Two that any state had used Iranian territory as a launching ground for attacks on a third country, a move that displayed Russia’s continual attempts to expand its role and presence in the Middle East. What was equally if not more shocking was Iran’s decision less than a week later to revoke Russia’s use of its air base. Iran indicated that Russia publicizing its unprecedented access was arrogant and uncalled for. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, stated that Russia’s use of the base was “temporary and coordinated”, and the country’s defense minister indicated that the attack was a joint effort to target terrorists in the area. Such a move on Iran’s part reflects its apprehensive view of Russia, revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of the terms of their deepening partnership with Iran.
However, Iran’s rapid change in opinion may have something to do with another recent development regarding Russia’s warming ties with Turkey. Shortly before Iran’s announced change in heart, Russia had reached out to Turkey asking them to provide access the Incirlik Air Base, a strategic NATO base for U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Syria. Whether or not Turkey decides to allow them access to Incirlik or even makes friends with Iran, what is apparent in Russia’s evolving relations with Turkey and Iran is its effort to more aggressively establish itself as an important player in the region, and Syria seems to be its chosen playground.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“Russia says a solution to Syria's 5 1/2-year-long war may be getting closer after relations improved with Turkey, a major backer of rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"It's a very important moment," Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman, said in an interview in Moscow Thursday. Turkey "is showing its interest in both the military and political sphere" in resolving the Syrian conflict and "when there's a constructive dialogue then of course it always helps the situation to develop in a positive way. It's a step in the right direction."
Russia welcomes contact between Turkey and Iran as a "constructive contribution" to resolving the Syrian crisis, Zakharova said. "If we communicate with Turkey and Iran, why shouldn't Turkey and Iran talk to each other? Many in Washington don't like it, but it's an important element" in diplomatic discussions, she said.”