Russia is demanding answers from both Bulgaria and Greece on the matter of airspace passage for its aircraft flying to Syria.
“If anyone — in this case our Greek and Bulgarian partners — has any doubts, then they, of course, should explain what the problem is,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Interfax news agency. “If we are talking about them taking some sort of restrictive or prohibitive measures on the Americans’ request, then this raises questions about their sovereign right to take decisions about planes from other countries — Russia in particular — crossing their air space,” he said.
Greece still has not officially replied to the US request to close its airspace to Russian aircraft, but that now may be a moot point. Russian aircraft flying west over the Black Sea cannot get to Greece without flying over either Bulgaria, which has closed its airspace, or Turkey. Turkey already has a history of forcing down Russian aircraft flying to or from Syria.
Russian officials are vowing that if Russian planes can’t fly through Greek and Bulgarian airspace, they’ll find some other routes. “Of course, alternative routes will be found,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, yesterday, though without specifying what those routes might be.
The other possible route is through Iran. The Russian ambassador in Tehran, Maxim Suslov, announced, yesterday morning, that Iran has, indeed, agreed to open its airspace to Russian flights to Syria. That means that Russian aircraft would have to fly over either Iraq or Saudi Arabia and Jordan to get to Syria, however. Though Baghdad has, in the past, expressed its own policy towards Syria, the US clearly has de facto, if not official, control of much of Iraqi airspace, because of the US-led air campaign against ISIS.
Nevertheless, Russian aircraft are apparently making it to Syria, anyway. Anonymous US officials told AFP on Tuesday, that at least three Russian planes have landed at an airbase in Latakia in recent days. Two of them were the giant An-124 cargo aircraft (larger than the American C-5) and the third was reportedly a passenger aircraft. “All of this seems to be suggesting that Russia is planning to do some sort of forward air-operating hub out of this airfield,” the official said. Two US officials also told Reuters, today, that two Russian assault ships carrying a small number of naval infantry as well as additional aircraft, arrived in Syria in the past day or so.