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Russia begins military drawdown in Syria

The Kremlin first deployed its troops to Syria in September 2015, and had begun a withdrawal in March 2016. But when fighting flared anew, Moscow was forced to redeploy more troops to the war-torn country.

Russia has begun withdrawing its military from war-torn Syria, beginning with its sole aircraft carrier deployed to the war zone. The move comes in response to a ceasefire that has taken hold across much of the country.

The Kremlin's military chief, Valery Gerasimov, first revealed the change to Russian news agencies.

"In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces Vladimir Putin, the Russian defense ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria," Gerasimov said.

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He said a naval group headed by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be the first to leave the area.

Russia's main commander in Syria, Andrei Kartapolov, confirmed the information, telling news agencies, "The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled."

Russia is expected to maintain two military bases in Syria; a naval base in Tartus and an airbase in Latakia. In addition, its anti-aircraft defenses, the S-300 and S-400 systems, will remain deployed in the conflict zone, according to Kartapolov.

Relentless bombing campaign

Russia radically ramped up its on site and offshore firepower in support of the Syrian regime in September 2015. The aim was to support regime forces under President Bashar al-Assad as they battled rebels for control of Aleppo, a strategically important city, and the second largest in Syria.

A relentless bombing assault, which frequently appeared to target hospitals and other civilian targets, reduced large swathes of Aleppo to piles of rubble. Rebel forces finally surrendered the city last month.

It was the biggest victory for the Kremlin-backed troops, and has paved the way for Russia to seek a political solution to the ongoing conflict. 

Most spectacularly Moscow has organized a peace conference for later in the month without the United States. The talks to be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, will be held with Turkey and Iran.

But many analysts are skeptical that Russia can pull off a permanent peace solution in Syria without the weight of the United States behind it.

Putin previously announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow later had to reverse itself, ramping up its military presence when fighting increased.

bik/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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