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Syria conflict: Russian forces leave Syria after Putin surprise move

 


Russian forces are preparing to leave Syria after Monday's surprise withdrawal announcement by President Vladimir Putin, the BBC reports.

Sergey Shoigu, Defence Minister, gave the order to withdraw and aircraft are being loaded up for long-range flights back to Russia.

Western officials cautiously welcomed the move, saying it could pressure Syria's government to engage in talks.

Peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict are entering a second day.

Meanwhile, a UN commission will present a report on war crimes in Syria later.

The Russian force reduction was announced during a meeting between Mr Putin and his defence and foreign ministers.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his office sought to reject speculation there was a rift between the two countries, saying the move was mutually agreed.

The Russian air campaign started last September, tipping the balance in favour of the Syrian government and allowing it to recapture territory from rebels.

No details have been given on how many planes and troops would be withdrawn from the Hmeimim base, in Latakia province, or a deadline for completing the pullout.

But the defence ministry said in a statement on its website that the "main part" of the Russian armed forces group in Syria was being relocated to the Russian Federation.

"Technical staff of the airbase started preparing aircraft for the long-range flight to the Russian Federation airfields," it said.

"The personnel are loading equipment, logistics items and inventory into transport aviation aircraft."

Russian TV showed aircraft being refuelled and crates being loaded onto them.

Aircraft from the base would make the flight to Russia - more than 5,000km - in small groups accompanied by the Il-76 transport planes with fuel stops at other Russian bases along the way, it added.

Su-24 tactical bombers, Su-25 attack fighters, Su-34 strike fighters and helicopters were returning home, the TV said.


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