Beirut, Moscow- President Vladimir Putin ordered the start of pullout of Russian forces from Syria on Monday, saying Russia’s objectives had been “generally accomplished” after nearly six months of air campaign to fight the terrorist groups.
Moscow continued withdrawing its military from Syria on Wednesday, thus implementing Putin’s earlier decision.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the withdrawal of the main part of Russia’s armed forces in Syria would not weaken Syrian President Bashar Assad, Interfax reported. She added that the only mission of Russia’s troops in Syria is anti-terrorism.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman, added that the main theme of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Russia next week would be Syria.
Preparations are ongoing in Russia as President Vladimir Putin today will grant state awards on Russian military personnel who fought in Syria after ordering the withdrawal of armed forces from the war-torn country, the Kremlin said.
Furthermore, and according to Reuters, just under half of Russia’s fixed-wing strike force based in Syria has flown out of the country in the past two days.
The precise number of planes Russia kept at its Hmeymim base in Syria’s Lattakia province is secret. However, analysis of satellite imagery, air strikes and Russian Defense Ministry’s statements suggested it had about 36 fixed-wing military jets there.
At least 15 of those planes have flown out in the past two days, a Reuters analysis of state television footage shows, including Su-24, Su-25, Su-30 and Su-34 jets.
Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, commander of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, pointed out that they do not have the potentials to determine the Russian munitions, which are withdrawn from Syria, in order to specify their number and quality.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that they consider the latest Russian decision as positive, yet they are looking forward to its application on ground. He also explained that the military operations have been halted for two weeks now in Aleppo, with some violations made by the Syrian regime; and that Russian air forces had backed from Aleppo’s airspace since then.
Col. Al-Oqaidi denied the presence of any indicator of the withdrawal of Hezbollah’s militants from Syrian territories.
For his part, Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said the withdrawal of Russian military personnel and planes from Syria was planned in advance and it was based on due coordination.
“The Syrian Army’s advances in areas where terrorist groups are still threatening the security of people and the region will continue with the advisory helps of Iran and Russia within a joint framework,” the top official added.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif considred Russia’s decision to begin withdrawing troops from Syria a positive sign, while saying it was too early to judge whether the start of peace talks meant the conflict has turned a corner.
“The fact that Russia announced it is withdrawing part of its forces indicates that it doesn’t see an imminent need for resort to force in maintaining the ceasefire,” said Zarif. “That in and of itself could be a positive sign. We have to wait and see.”