President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia was not planning to withdraw from Syria for now, adding that the military would stay there for as long as it was in Russia’s interest.
Putin added that the military operation in the country was a “unique opportunity” to test and train Russian troops.
“We are not yet planning a withdrawal of these military forces,” Putin told a televised phone-in session.
Putin also said there was no need for any major military operations in Syria involving Russia’s armed forces and that Russia could leave the country quickly if necessary.
Putin said it was better for Russian forces to take on militants in Syria than deal with them in Russia.
But he added that large-scale hostilities had ceased and a peaceful settlement was on the agenda.
The Russian president first launched a military intervention in Syria in 2015, turning the tables in the multi-front civil war in favour of ally President Bashar Assad.
In December last year, Putin made a surprise visit to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia, Syria where he ordered a partial pullout of the country’s troops, saying their mission there was mainly completed.
Putin first said in March 2016 that the country’s military campaign in Syria was coming to an end.
In March this year, the defence ministry said a total of 2,954 Russian troops in Syria had voted in presidential polls, giving an idea of current numbers.
Officials and observers also point out the presence of a “shadow army” of Russian mercenaries in Syria, including those working for a private military company called Wagner.
© 2018 the Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
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