On Friday, Russia announced that it is withdrawing its aircraft carrier and some other Russian warships from the waters off Syria as the first step in withdrawing its forces that have been deployed in the war-torn country. The declaration comes a week after Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire in Syria, following a decisive Moscow-backed victory for the government of President Bashar Assad over rebels in the city of Aleppo.
According to Russian General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier and accompanying ships are to be the first to leave. “In accordance with the decision by the supreme commander-in-chief (President) Vladimir Putin, the Defense Ministry is starting to downsize the grouping of armed forces in Syria,” Gerasimov said, without giving further details on the force reduction.
This is the second time Moscow has announced a scaling back of its military presence in Syria, since backing the Syrian government in September 2015. Along with Turkey, Russia brokered the current cease-fire, which came into effect on Dec. 30. The truce has mostly held but not altogether ended fighting in the country, and the government and opposition have thrown blame at each other for violating of the truce.
The cease-fire was meant to pave the way for peace negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, later in January. The truce, however, doesn’t include areas controlled by the Islamic State group.
On Friday, Syria’s Kurdish-led forces in the north said they have taken control of a medieval castle perched on a hilltop over a strategic town held by IS militants, less than 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the self-declared capital of the extremist group.
Russia’s support, with a military advisers, along with the boosting of its arsenal and a naval base on the Syrian coast has indeed changed the course of the 6-year civil war, in favor of Syrian President Assad.
In March 2016, President Putin also ordered the Russian military to withdraw most of its forces from Syria, and timed his declaration with a brief cease-fire in place at the time, one that was brokered by Moscow and Washington, and the launch of peace talks that were held in Geneva.
“The successes of the Syrian armed forces in the liberation of Aleppo have created the necessary conditions for the peaceful settlement of the conflict,” said Gerasimov. “I’m confident that it will lay the basis for the political settlement of the conflict.”