Russia has started pulling its forces out of Syria, with first warplanes heading home from the air base in Hemeimeem. The withdrawal started less than a day after it was announced by the Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin.
Russian media showed pictures of soldiers in Syria loading military equipment into transport planes on Tuesday.
Several military jets, including a Tu-154 transporter and Su-34 bombers, have already left the Middle Eastern country and headed to "their permanent bases on the territory of the Russian Federation," the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
Other groups areexpected to follow,
embarking on a 5.000 kilometers (3.100 miles) journey between Hemeimeem and bases in Russia.
"Every group would have a 'leader,' a military transport plane (…) carrying engineers, technical personal and technical material, which would be followed by warplanes of different types," the ministry said in a press release.
The pullout wasfirst announced
on Monday, in a surprise move by Russian President Putin.
In televised comments, Putin said that the Russian military's task in Syria has been completed "as a whole" and that "the main part" of Kremlin's forces is set to return home.
'Nobody has ruled out' military action
On Tuesday, a high-ranking lawmaker of Putin's United Russia Party said that Moscow would continue its involvement into Syrian political process.
It would be "conducted by Russian diplomats in active cooperation with partners in Syria and abroad, an we will also participate in ceasefire monitoring and distribution of aid to the population," said deputy-speaker of the Russian parliament Sergey Zheleznyak.
He added that Russia would maintain its naval and areal base in Syria and that "nobody has ruled out the possibility of our action, if necessary."
The Kremlin has yet to announce how many soldiers it intends to keep on Syrian territory. Head of the defense committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, Viktor Ozerov, said Tuesday that he estimated about 1,000 troops would stay behind, including military trainers. Russia may also keep their advanced anti-aircraft S-400 missile system "for a certain amount of time," he said.
Russia started its bombing campaign in September last year, helping the Syrian regime to turn the tide against the rebels.
Darko Janjevic (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP, Interfax)