World Europe 12 Dec 2017 Russian troops to be ...

Russian troops to be withdrawn from Syria

Published Dec 12, 2017, 12:50 am IST
Updated Dec 12, 2017, 12:50 am IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin chats with Russian military pilots at the Hmeimim air base in Syria, on Monday. (Photo: AP)
 Russian President Vladimir Putin chats with Russian military pilots at the Hmeimim air base in Syria, on Monday. (Photo: AP)

President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during a surprise visit to the war-torn country. Putin arrived at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia province, a government stronghold, where he was welcomed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the two men were pictured smiling, shaking hands and hugging. Putin said he had ordered defence minister Sergei Shoigu to start a partial withdrawal. “I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he said in a televised speech to troops at the base.

Russia first intervened in the conflict in 2015, staging air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both the Islamic State group (ISIS) and other jihadists as well as rebels fighting government troops. Putin said the troops had helped the Syrian army crush the “most battle-ready group of international terrorists,” apparently referring to ISIS. “On the whole the task has been completed. And completed brilliantly,” he said. Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a “new stage” as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reforms.

He said both Hmeimim and Russia’s naval facility in Tartus would continue to function and warned that Russia would repel any fresh attacks by militants. “If terrorists rear their heads again we will inflict the blows that they have not seen yet,” he said. The Kremlin strongman thanked Russian troops for defending Russia from terrorism and helping Syria remain a “sovereign independent state”. Putin said the conflict proved that Russia’s armed forces, including intelligence officers, pilots, sailors, special forces, military police, sappers and military advisers, were on top form, and he also praised the country’s defence industry.

“Our homeland thanks you, my friends,” he said. “Have a safe trip. I thank you for your service.” After his speech Putin inspected the troops who goose-stepped to the tune of a popular Soviet-era song about World War II. Putin made the Syria stopover en route to Egypt where he arrived later on Monday. From there, Putin is scheduled to travel to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Last week Putin announced he would be standing in the March presidential election that he is expected to effortlessly win, and his lighting visit to Syria can be expected to play well with the voters.     



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