Russia says it is withdrawing an aircraft carrier and other warships from waters off the Mediterranean as the first step in drawing down forces in Syria.
“In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces, [President] Vladimir Putin, the Russian defence ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria,” military chief Valery Gerasimov said.
Gerasimov said a naval group headed by aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be the first to leave the area.
Russia’s main commander in Syria, Andrei Kartapolov, added: “The tasks set for the aircraft carrier group during its military mission have been fulfilled.”
Kartapolov said Russia still had sufficient air defence capabilities in Syria thanks to the S-300 and S-400 systems deployed in the country.
Moscow launched a bombing campaign in Syria in September 2015, helping to turn the tide in favour of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Syrian regime forces targeting the second city of Aleppo were aided by Russian firepower on land in Syria and off the coast in the Mediterranean.
Troops loyal to Assad finally ousted rebels from the city last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting, paving the way for the Kremlin to launch a fresh push for a political solution to the conflict.
Putin ordered a reduction in his forces in Syria on 29 December as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces.
Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, is pushing for peace talks to be held this month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.
Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow later ramped up its presence again as fighting increased.
Culled from theguardian.com