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1ST LEAD Putin makes surprise Syria visit, orders withdrawal of bulk of troops By Peter Spinella and Nehal El-Sherif, dpa

Europe
11.12.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Moscow/Cairo (dpa) - President Vladimir Putin told troops at an airbase in Syria on Monday that a "significant portion of the Russian military contingent" in the country will return home, according to televised comments.

"Victorious, you are returning to your homes, to your loved ones, parents, wives, children, friends. The motherland is waiting for you. I thank you for your service," Putin told the crowd.

His visit to the Hmeimim airbase, the principal base for Russia‘s bombing campaign against insurgents in the country, had been unannounced.

Putin met with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, Russian troops and several high-ranking military officials, including Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Kremlin reported.

Putin noted that the Russian military would keep forces at Hmeimim, in Syria‘s north-west, and the Tartus naval facility on Syria‘s Mediterranean coast on a permanent basis.

Russia, the main military backer of Syria‘s ruling regime in that country‘s multi-sided war, announced last week that it had accomplished its military mission and would focus on rebuilding the country and preserving peace.

Moscow made an analogous announcement in March 2016, saying it was withdrawing most of its troops from the country. Soon thereafter, it appeared that Russia was continuing operations as usual.

After the Syria visit, Putin arrived in Cairo for a meeting with that country‘s leader, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, state media reported. Putin was then scheduled to travel to Turkey later in the day for dinner with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Al-Sissi received Putin at Cairo airport, according to live footage on state television.

Moscow announced last month that it wants clearance for Russian jets to fly through Egyptian airspace and use the US ally‘s military airports, a move seen by analysts as signalling Washington‘s waning influence in Egypt and the wider region.

Having such a military agreement with Egypt would further heighten Russia‘s influence in the Middle East, especially in respect to neighbouring Libya.

 

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