Russian President Vladimir Putin (i) and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, at a meeting with Russian military leaders at the Hmeimim air base in northwestern Syria on December 11, 2017
Russia began on Tuesday the partial withdrawal of its troops deployed two years ago in Syria, according to the announcement of President Vladimir Putin, who declared the mission „brilliantly fulfilled“ after two years of intervention in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The day after the announcement of a withdrawal of „a significant part“ of the forces committed since September 2015, Russian television broadcasted images of the soldiers disembarking in Russian territory throughout the day.
Some were greeted by a small crowd with patriotic slogans, others by senior army officers who thanked them for their work.
„The military police battalion of the southern military district [of Russia], which was deployed in Syria, was driven by two military transport planes to the Majachkala airport,“ the capital of Dagestan, the Russian army said in a statement.
Aircraft A-50 landed in the Ivanovo region, northeast of Moscow. Bombers Tu-22M3 left the airfield of North Ossetia, in the Russian Caucasus, from where they took off to attack Syria, to reach their permanent base in the regions of Kaluga, in the center of Russia, and Murmansk, in the north.
– „Two thirds of the quota“ –
On Monday morning, on the way to a tour of Egypt and Turkey, Putin made an unexpected stopover in Syria for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, six years ago, which already leaves at least 340,000 dead and millions of displaced and refugees.
At the Hmeimim air base, next to Bashar al-Assad, Putin, candidate for a fourth term, announced the withdrawal of a „significant part“ of the Russian forces present in the country.
„Yes, the terrorist threat is still very high in the world, but the mission to fight terrorist groups here in Syria, which was necessary with the large-scale media of the armed forces, was fully achieved. , and brilliantly, „he insisted.
The Russian president did not specify the number of soldiers involved.
According to the head of the Russian forces in Syria, General Sergei Surovikin, 23 Russian planes and two helicopters had to leave Syria, followed by units of the military police, demining units and doctors of the field hospital.
Anonymous sources close to the Russian army told the newspapers RBK and Kommersant that it is „two thirds of the contingent and the teams.“
Russia will maintain a presence at the Hmeimim airfield and at the Russian naval base in Tartus, in order to „attack with an unseen force“ the terrorists „if they raise their heads“, recalled his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov.
– „Political war“ –
From 4,000 to 5,000 Russian soldiers were deployed in Syria in these two years. Officially some 40 Russian troops died from the start of the operation.
The Russian intervention changed the situation in Syria, allowing Assad to recover a large part of the territory in the hands of the rebels and the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), the latter now isolated in small areas or pockets.
Putin had already ordered the withdrawal of part of the Russian contingent in Syria in March 2016.
On Monday, the Pentagon reacted to this new announcement with skepticism, stating that „the Russian declarations (…) do not usually correspond to a real reduction of its military personnel“.
„It is essential for Putin to appear as the military victor and leader of a world power for the Russian citizens who will vote for him in a few months,“ independent military expert Alexandre Golts told AFP.
Putin, in power for 18 years as president or prime minister, announced last week his candidacy for the March 2018 elections for a fourth term.
„This war started for political reasons,“ Golts said.