Russian Defense Ministry cutting military presence in Syria

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Moscow, Jan 13: The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that it is continuing to reduce military presence in Syria, in response to US media reports of more Russian forces there despite a withdrawal announcement.

On Wednesday, Fox News TV channel quoted two unnamed US officials as saying that Russia was actually increasing its armed forces in Syria although the country began to pull its aircraft carrier group out of the Mediterranean last Friday, Xinhua reported.

The reports said four Russian Su-25 jets, known as Frogfoots by NATO, arrived in Syria on Monday.

Major General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said the four Su-25 aircraft have indeed been transferred from Russia to Hmeimin air base in Syria “within the framework of scheduled rotation.”

According to the spokesman, the first six Su-24 bombers have already been withdrawn to Russia and some other aircraft with pilots and technical staff will shortly follow suit.

The Russian naval group, which includes the country’s sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with over 40 aircraft, is also on its way to the permanent base in Severomorsk, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a gradual reduction of his country’s military presence in Syria after the Syrian government and the opposition groups reached a nationwide truce agreement in late December.

Mediators and Syrian conflicting factions are expected to meet in Astana, Kazakhstan, later this month to seek solutions to the chronic crisis.