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Putin Orders Partial Russian Troop Withdrawal From Syria

Vladimir Putin says Russian troops helped the Syrian army crush the “most battle-ready group of international terrorists”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (L) give a press conference following their talks at the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 11.Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (L) give a press conference following their talks at the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 11.

President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.

Putin arrived at Russia's Hmeimim airbase in Latakia Province, a government stronghold, where he was welcomed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the two men were pictured smiling, shaking hands and hugging, AFP reported.

Putin, who announced last week he would be seeking a fourth Kremlin term in a presidential poll in March, said he had ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to start a partial withdrawal.

"I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia," he said in a televised speech to troops at the base.

Russia first intervened in the conflict in 2015, staging air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group and other militants as well as rebels fighting government troops.

Putin said the troops had helped the Syrian army crush the "most battle-ready group of international terrorists," apparently referring to IS.        

“On the whole the task has been completed. And completed brilliantly.”

Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a “new stage” as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reforms.

He said both Hmeimim and Russia’s naval facility in Tartus would continue to function and warned that Russia would repel any fresh attacks by militants.

“If terrorists rear their heads again we will inflict the blows that they have not seen yet,” he said.

  Word of Gratitude

The Kremlin strongman thanked Russian troops for defending Russia from terrorism and helping Syria remain a “sovereign independent state”.

Putin said the conflict proved that Russia’s armed forces, including intelligence officers, pilots, sailors, special forces, military police, sappers and military advisers, were in top form, and he also praised the country’s defense industry.

“Our homeland thanks you, my friends,” he said. “Have a safe trip. I thank you for your service.”

After his speech Putin inspected the troops who goose-stepped to the tune of a popular Soviet-era song about World War II.

Assad thanked the Russian leader for the Russian army’s assistance in defeating terrorists, TASS reported.

“On behalf of the entire people of the Syrian Arab Republic, I express deep gratitude for this role that your armed forces have played. The victories that were achieved concerned both our state and the neighboring countries,” he said.

The size of the Russian deployment in Syria is not known but independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer has told AFP that up to 10,000 troops and private contractors could have taken part in the conflict.

Putin had ruled out dispatching ground forces in Syria, making the air force the mainstay of Moscow’s Syria campaign.

Putin made the Syria stopover en route to Egypt where he arrived later Monday.

  Nuclear Deal in Egypt

Making his second visit to Egypt in as many years, Putin held talks with his Egyptian counterpart on their countries’ rapidly expanding ties, AP reported.

Egypt’s general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, has visited Russia three times since the ouster of his democratically-elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. After taking office, Sissi has bought billions of dollars’ worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters.

Russia last month approved a draft agreement with Egypt to allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, a deal that would mark a significant leap in bilateral ties and evidence of Moscow’s expanding military role in a turbulent Middle East. That deal, if it goes through, will likely irk the United States, until now a top Egypt military ally.

Citing documents from Kremlin Reuters later reported that Putin and Sissi will sign an agreement on Monday about the construction of a nuclear power station in Egypt and supplies of nuclear fuel.

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