Putin visits Syria and orders ‘significant’ withdrawal of forces

Putin visits Syria and orders ‘significant’ withdrawal of forces

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Vladimir Putin, Russia,
Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin has visited a Russian military air base in Syria and announced a partial pullout of his forces from the country.

Mr Putin made a stopover at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia while en route to Egypt. The base, in the heartland of Syrian president Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority, has served as the main foothold for the Russian military campaign in Syria.

Speaking to the Russian troops at the base, Mr Putin said he had ordered the military to withdraw a “significant part” of the Russian contingent in Syria.

He added in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that “if the terrorists again raise their heads, we will deal such blows to them they have never seen”. Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said Mr Assad met up with Mr Putin at the air base in Syria earlier in the morning.

The Russian military has said previously that they will maintain their presence at the Hemeimeem air base and the naval facility in Tartus. The visit marks Mr Putin’s first trip to Syria and comes as Mr Assad’s forces have retaken control over most of Syria under the Russian air cover.

Russia launched its air campaign in Syria on September 30 2015 when Mr Assad’s government was teetering on the brink of collapse and helped change the course of the conflict in its favour.

Mr Putin’s visit follows the Russian announcement last week that the Syrian army under the Russian air cover routed the Islamic State in eastern Syria and fully restored control over the border with Iraq.

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