Russia gets Iran's clearance for Syria-bound flights

Iran has granted permission for Russian planes to fly over its territory en route to Syria, a bypass needed after Bulgaria rejected Moscow's overflight request amid signs of a Russian military buildup in Syria.

AFP| Updated: Sep 09, 2015, 23:32 PM IST

Moscow: Iran has granted permission for Russian planes to fly over its territory en route to Syria, a bypass needed after Bulgaria rejected Moscow's overflight request amid signs of a Russian military buildup in Syria.

The Russian Embassy in Tehran has received Iranian permission for Syria-bound flights, its spokesman Maxim Suslov said today, according to the Interfax news agency.

After Bulgaria rejected Moscow's overflight request for September 1-24, a path via Iran and Iraq appears to be the only one left as Russia apparently wants to avoid flying over Turkey, which once grounded a Syria-bound Russian plane with military cargo.

The controversy over the Russian flights comes amid signs of increased Russian military presence in Syria. Moscow, which has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nation's four-and-a-half-year civil war, said its military experts are in Syria to train its military to use weapons supplied by Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the West of creating "strange hysteria" over Russian activities there, saying that Moscow has been openly supplying weapons and sending military specialists to Syria for a long time.

"Russia has never made a secret of its military-technical cooperation with Syria," she said, adding that she could "confirm and repeat once again that Russian military specialists are in Syria to help them master the weapons being supplied."

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have sought to cast weapons supplies to Assad's regime as part of international efforts to combat the Islamic State group and other militant organizations in Syria.

On Friday, Putin didn't rule out a bigger role. Asked if Russia could deploy its troops to Syria to help fight IS, he said "we are looking at various options."

By playing with the idea of joining the US-led coalition fighting IS, Putin may hope to reset ties with the West, which were shattered by the Ukrainian crisis, and also protect Moscow's influence in Syria, where it has a navy base.

But the US and its allies have seen Assad as the cause of the Syrian crisis and Washington has warned Moscow against beefing up its presence.