Russia is starting to wind back its military presence in the Syrian conflict, Russian military chiefs announced on Friday. The scaling down of troops comes after President Vladimir Putin issued a decree amid the negotiation of a cease-fire with Iran and Turkey.
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its battle group will taken from its current post in the Mediterranean Sea to its base in Severomorsk, Russia, Army General Valery Gerasimov said on Friday. The battle group had been deployed to Syria since October 2016, using its aircraft to target anti-Assad government forces and give joint support to other divisions.
“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.
On Dec. 29, Putin ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian forces in Syria and the following day a cease-fire was agreed to with Iran and Turkey. The cease-fire appears to be holding up and the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed the draft resolution in support of the deal. Russia, however, still has significant firepower in Syria including surface to air missiles.
Putin said that the cease-fire would be an opportunity to bring an end to the devastating conflict which has raged since March 2011. Fighting has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, and has displaced millions, fueling a refugee crisis as refugees flee neighboring countries and Europe.
Viktor Ozerov, Russia’s head of the parliamentary Federation Council's Committee for Security and Defense, said that the start of the withdrawal “is an act of Russia’s good will within the framework of the cease-fire regime.”