Earlier this month Russia’s Mariinsky Theatre orchestra held a concert amid the ancient ruins of the Syrian city of Palmyra to celebrate its liberation from the grip of the Islamic State. A few weeks later, it looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin is orchestrating a different kind of show there entirely.
Newly released satellite imagery shows that Russia is building a military base near the ruins of a Roman necropolis inside the protected area of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. ISIS staged a mass execution nearby last year.
Syrian and Iranian ground troops, backed by Russia airstrikes, captured Palmyra in March, though sporadic fighting dots the area as ISIS forces try to retake the archaeological site.
The new Russian outpost appears to include armored vehicles, air defenses and a brand new helicopter pad, according to a report from the American School of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiative and DigitalGlobe, a private analytics firm.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, told the Associated Press that the Russians are building small barracks that includes offices and clinics.
In addition to being a potential violation of international law, the site’s construction is another sign that Moscow’s military adventure in Syria that began last September is far from over.
In March, Putin made a great show of announcing that the Kremlin would withdraw “the main part” of its military forces after accomplishing its mission of shoring up the Assad government. However, a recent analysis found that Moscow has continued sending military hardware to Syria and its capability is roughly the same as before it announced the drawdown.
Meanwhile, Russia’s airbase near the Syrian port of Latakia still boasts fighters, bomber, attack helicopters and the S-400 missile defense system, according to The Economist.
Osama al-Khatib, a Syrian opposition activist from Palmyra who lives in Turkey, told the AP that the new base is located just a few hundred yards from the Arch of Triumph, which was built under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between A.D. 193 and A.D. 211, and that the barracks appear to be near historical graves.