Deciphering the ‘Russian Withdrawal’ from Hamadan


August 22, 2016 – Fort Russ News – 

– Analysis by: Joaquin Flores – 

Is Russia withdrawing from the Hamadan air base in Iran? Today, a news piece made its rounds stating that Russia is officially downgrading its status at, or completely withdrawing its forces from, the Hamadan air base in Iran. It was just last week that Iran and Russia had announced this as a base which Russia could permanently use. 

Official statements, especially in a time of war, always serve multiple purposes and contain data which is normally beyond the limited scope of the statement itself. Therefore, in light of the existing literature on 4GW (fourth generation warfare) and ‘new media’, we understand that the statement itself does not reflect the full scope of the reality in question. Based upon our assessment of both what seems strategically logical under the current circumstances, and in line with the precedent established by Russia in prior cases, it is beyond any doubt that what has been reported does not directly infer to the reality which it refers. 

As RT reported: “Official Representative of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, Major General Igor Konashenkov, stated that, now that tasks have been successfully completed and Russian aircraft have been withdrawn from the Hamadan airbase in Iran, the base will henceforth only be used depending on the situation in Syria. The grounds for use will be mutual agreements on combating terrorism.”

This Russian MoD’s statement and relevant media reports could be interpreted as announcements of a Russian withdrawal from the base for one reason or another. The information that all the Russian aircraft involved in sorties from Hamadan, from Tu-22M3’s to Su-34’s, are now back in Russia might seem to indicate a a tacit withdrawal from an important newly acquired operative location during a pivotal juncture in the Syrian conflict. In actuality, Russia and Iran have just agreed to change how they publicly describe what is indeed, as previously described, Russia’s permanent use of the Hamadan airfield. 

The US was likely to use the existence of a Russian base as a bargaining chip in any upcoming ceasefire talks, which Russia has recently indicated it would be willing to enter into on a pilot basis. Indeed, following this track, the Russian announcement may be taken as a clear sign that specific terms of a ceasefire will be negotiated in the very near future. 

This fits a clear pattern of Russian information war strategy in which Russia unilaterally declares a withdrawal or otherwise redeployment of forces in order to prevent the US from using such as a bargaining chip in their list of demands. 

A nearly identical announcement was made back in March as a precursor to ceasefire talks that Russia was pulling its planes back to the Russian Federation from its Latakia base. The language used in circulating that information created the public perception that Russia was generally down-scaling its operations. This was an effective device in the lead up to ceasefire negotiations, but subsequent facts would show to the contrary that Russia had redoubled its efforts. This move corroborates the opinion of the author that the nature of US-Russian bilateral talks are limited to facts on the ground, as opposed to those that would include every foreseeable or imaginable development. 

After the original Hamadan base announcement from the week of August 15th, which accurately explained the nature of Russia’s permanent use of the Hamadan base, lawyers and diplomatic channels from the US expressed their view that this violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 which states that “it is necessary to coordinate with the UN the supply, sale or transfer of certain types of weapons to Iran, including combat aircraft.”

Lavrov had clarified that these aircraft were not in the possession of Iran and therefore not subject to the UNSC’s resolution. However, this created a dilemma within the political processes of Iranian democracy. 

Article 146 of the Iranian Constitution prohibits the establishment of any foreign military bases in the country, a significant outcome of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The previous description of the base as being a permanent Russian presence would unnecessarily give ammunition to opposition parties in Iran’s upcoming elections even if Iran’s officials could clarify that they had “given nothing away.” In addition, such accusations could set back progress in easing and lifting sanctions against Iran and rebuild business relationships, which some European countries have already to begun to realize. 

Overall, this new reshuffle resembles the supposed Russian  “withdrawal” from Latakia several months ago. In reality, it is another tactical and strategic repositioning and use of information war intended to keep the upper hand in the diplomatic standoff over Syria. 

It is also important to mention that there is a key phrase embedded in the official announcement from Major General Konashenkov, that the base would: “henceforth only be used depending on the situation in Syria“. 

This tells us that in reality there will be no change in the use of the airbase, because its use always depended on the situation in Syria. Whether one frames the base as an ongoing operation, or to the contrary, one that is only used right before an actual sortie, bears no distinction in practice. 

In summary, we can interpret this announcement of a new “withdrawal” as accomplishing one or more of the aforementioned requirements: (1) removing potential demands from the  soft pro-Atlanticist Iranian opposition; (2) greatly reducing the possibility of the US presenting the Hamadan airbase as a concession to be demanded Russia; (3) reducing the potential of the US successfully arguing that Iran is violating the UN Security Council resolution.  

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