Report: Russia Built Military Base in Syria's Ancient Palmyra

The sun sets behind ruined columns at the historical city of Palmyra, in the Syrian desert
The sun sets behind ruined columns at the historical city of Palmyra, in the Syrian desert / Reuters
May 18, 2016

The Russian military has constructed an army base in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria where Islamic State jihadists were recently pushed out by government troops.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Russian officials said it was using housing units on the sites for explosive experts who were based in the camp to eradicate mines left by the militants. The officials called the encampment "temporary" and said they were given permission from the Syrian government to build the camp.

The military base is located in a zone that encompasses the city’s UNESCO world heritage site. The AP cited satellite images from the School of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative that detailed the encampment on the "edge" of Palmyra.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied the report Wednesday, claiming that there are "no new army bases" in Palmyra and "there never will be."

Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov told Russia’s state-run that the satellite images depict a demining center.

"The satellite pictures of this area posted by UNESCO, which were mentioned by AP, show the temporary camp of the International Demining Center of Russia’s Defense Forces, which were demining the archaeological monument of Palmyra, and now the broader area of Tadmor city," he said. "The installation of this temporary camp until the area is cleared of explosives has been approved at the Ministry of Culture and other official departments of the Syrian State."

But the head of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums department said Russia did not seek approval for building the camp.

Despite acknowledging that the city’s priceless monumental ruins were better protected under Russian protection, he said he would not have given Moscow permission to establish the base had officials asked.

"We refuse to give permission even if it was for a small room to be built inside the site—whether it is for the Syrian army, Russian army or anyone else," the department’s head Maamoun Abdulkarim said. "We will never give such permission because this will be in violation of the archaeology law."

ISIS controlled the city for 10 months, purging the city of its ancient sites and cultural heritage, including a 2,000-year-old ancient temple.

Syrian government forces recaptured the city last month with the assistance of Russian airstrikes.