Russia can redeploy Syria force ‘in hours’

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia can rebuild its forces in Syria “in a few hours”, if necessary, and will continue striking extremist groups.
Russia can redeploy Syria force ‘in hours’

Mr Putin, who ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian warplanes from Syria earlier this week, said that Russia has kept some forces there to support the Syrian army’s action against the Islamic State, the Nusra Front, and other extremist groups.

He said that the Russian military is ready to use its air defence missile systems in Syria “against any targets that would threaten our servicemen”.

Mr Putin’s statement underlined Russia’s intention to maintain a strong military presence in Syria to keep its gains, after a five-month air campaign that has turned the tide of war and allowed Syrian president Bashar Assad’s forces to make significant advances.

Speaking during a Kremlin ceremony honouring Russian military officers who have taken part in Syria, mr Putin said that the campaign has demonstrated Russia’s “leadership, will, and responsibility” in “preventing the growth of a tumour of terrorism”.

Russian warplanes have conducted 9,000 combat missions since the air campaign began, on September 30, allowing the Syrian army “to gain strategic initiative”, Mr Putin said.

He said the military spent 33bn rubles ($480m), which it had previously earmarked for manoeuvres, in financing the Syrian campaign.

“There is no more efficient way of training than real combat,” he said, adding that the military action in Syria allowed the Russian armed forces to test its long-range cruise missiles, and other new weapons, in real action.

Mr Putin added that a Russian- and US-brokered ceasefire, which began on February 27, has allowed Russia to reduce its military presence in Syria.

The number of Russian air missions in Syria has dropped from 60-80 to 20-30 a day, so some warplanes could be sent home, he said, but he did not say how many would stay.

Mr Putin said Mr Assad had been told in advance about the Russian pullout and supported the decision.

Mr Putin praised the Syrian ruler for what he described as his readiness to contribute to a peaceful settlement.

“We have seen him show restraint and demonstrating a sincere striving for peace and readiness for compromise and dialogue,” he said. Mr Putin voiced hope that the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria would help Syrian peace talks, which began in Geneva on Monday.

While praising co-operation with the US in negotiating the truce, Mr Putin warned that the Russian military that would remain in Syria would be ready to act against any groups that violated the ceasefire.

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