Russian President Vladimir Putin orders forces to start pulling out of Syria

Elias Hubbard
December 15, 2017

Mr Putin's brief stop at the Hmeymim while on route to Egypt comes days after the Russian President declared his bid to run for re-election in the March 18 vote, helping encourage the feelings of pride about Russia's revived global clout and prestige.

Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a "new stage" as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reform.

Russian officials say troops in Syria were there mainly to fight "terrorists" including militants of the Islamic State group and al Qaida affiliates, but they also heavily targeted other rebel factions opposed to Mr Assad, allowing his troops to claw back significant territory over the past two years.

Syrian TV said Mr Assad thanked Mr Putin for his troops' effective contribution to the fight against terrorism in Syria.

Russian Federation hopes to convene a peace conference that would help it bypass the United States as a new power broker in the Middle East. He did not clarify how many soldiers will be returning home this time but said both Russia's airbase Hmeimim and naval facility in Tartus would continue to function.

In a televised speech to the Russian troops at the base, the Russian leader hailed their "excellent" performance in Syria.

A Russian Su-24 bomber passes by a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Hemeimeem air base.

Russian television stations showed Mr Putin walking off the plane, embracing and shaking hands with Mr Assad at the air base.

The moves seemed calculated to demonstrate Russia's growing influence in the region - as well as how the USA had been largely sidelined.

Putin is now keen to organize a special event in Russian Federation - the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue - that Moscow hopes will bring together the Syrian government and opposition and try to hammer out a new constitution.

The size of the Russian deployment in Syria is not known but independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer told AFP that up to 10,000 troops and private contractors could have taken part in the conflict. "The Motherland is waiting for you". He made clear however that while Russian Federation might be drawing down much of its forces, its military presence in Syria was a permanent one and that it would retain enough firepower to destroy any Islamic State comeback.

Russian Federation will keep its Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province and its naval facility in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartous "on a permanent basis", said Putin.

Both bases are protected by sophisticated air defense missile systems.

"The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces", said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the spokesman for US Air Forces Central Command.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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