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Russian Military Says It Has Begun Drawdown Of Forces In Syria

The Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov and other ships in Russia's fleet will reportedly begin the withdrawal from Syria. (file photo)

Russia’s military has begun a drawdown of its forces in Syria, media reports quoted the chief of Russia’s general staff as saying.

"In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces [President] Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defense Ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria," Russian news agencies quoted General Valery Gerasimov as saying on January 6.

Gerasimov was reported to have said that Russia's naval fleet led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which has been operating in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian coast, would be the first to return from Syria.

Putin said on December 29 that Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria under the terms of a cease-fire agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

The fragile cease-fire has largely held despite sporadic violence near Syria's capital, Damascus.

A car bomb in the government-held coastal town of Jableh on January 5 that killed 10 people was the first major incident since the cease-fire went into force on December 30.

The truce is slated to be followed by peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, later this month.

Russia has waged a potent air campaign in Syria since September 2015, bolstering the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and turning the tide of the war in the government’s favor.

Last month, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took full control of the northern city of Aleppo, forcing out rebels who had held the eastern part of the city since 2012.

Putin had already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March.

Around half its fixed-wing strike aircraft flew out in the days that followed. But Russia continued to ship significant quantities of military supplies to Syria.

The five-year conflict has killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced about half the country's prewar population, or around 11 million people.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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