Russia fencer Sofia Velikaya (R) was among the group who visited Moscow's Hmeimim airbase outside teh Syrian city of Latakia
Russia fencer Sofia Velikaya (R) was among the group who visited Moscow's Hmeimim airbase outside teh Syrian city of Latakia © Alexander Nemenov - AFP/File
Russia fencer Sofia Velikaya (R) was among the group who visited Moscow's Hmeimim airbase outside teh Syrian city of Latakia
AFP
Last updated: August 30, 2016

Russian Olympians visit Moscow's airbase in Syria

A group of Russian Olympians paid a visit over the weekend to Russia's airbase in war-torn Syria, where Moscow has been conducting air strikes for nearly a year, state television reported Monday.

Seven athletes, including gold medal winners from the Rio Olympics, led group exercises with the soldiers and planted trees at Moscow's Hmeimim airbase outside the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, state television showed.

Fencers Sofia Velikaya, Timur Safin, Artur Akhmatkhuzin, Alexei Cheremisinov, who all won gold in team events in Rio, were among the group.

"We understood that we were flying to see our heroes, our defenders," pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva told state television.

"We had the desire to (...) support our troops, to tell them that we love them, that we are close and that we are proud."

Isinbayeva did not compete in Rio because of a ban against Russian track and field athletes over evidence of state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in the sport.

But the 34-year-old nonetheless travelled to Rio where she was elected a new member of the International Olympic Committee's athletes commission.

The Russian athletes who visited the base train with the CSKA Moscow sports clubs, which is tied to the Russian defence ministry.

Russia, which also operates a naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus, began its bombing campaign in support of leader Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, a move that helped shore up his regime's crumbling forces.

Russia is reportedly planning to expand its airbase in Syria into a permanent military facility.

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