Russia Establishing Permanent Presence in Its Bases in Syria, Defense Minister Says

Putin announced at the beginning of the month that Russia would pull its forces out of Syria, but noted it would retain naval and air bases

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the troops at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.
Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that Russia has begun establishing a permanent presence at its military bases in Tartus and Hmeimim in Syria, RIA news agency said.

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"Last week the Commander-in-Chief approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim. We have begun forming a permanent presence there," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at the start of the month that Russia will pull its forces from Syria.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura at a press conference closing a round of Intra Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations offices in Geneva, on December 14, 2017
AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI

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After he arrived in Latakia, Syria's main port city, on an unexpected visit, the Russian president said that despite the decision to withdraw "a significant portion of the Russian contingent," if "terrorists raise their heads" in Syria Russia will hit them with powerful strikes.

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Putin also noted that Russia was going to retain its air base and naval facility in Syria.

At the time, Putin told Syrian President Bashar Assad he hopes the work of the Syrian congress can be launched, and that he will also discuss the issue with the presidents of Egypt and Turkey. 

The announcement that he is removing troops is not the first of its kind. Putin made similar announcements in March 2016 and last January

According to Tass news agency, Putin met with Assad in the Khmeimim air base in Latakia, not far from the Syrian border with Israel and Lebanon, before heading off to Egypt, where he landed Monday afternoon. 

Russia’s military said it had accomplished its mission of defeating Islamic State in Syria, and there were no remaining settlements there under the group’s control.

Russia has been supporting the Assad regime in Syria since the Syrian civil war first erupted in 2011, providing political and military aid over the past six years.

In 2015, Moscow began its direct military involvement in Damascus.

Syrian army forces backed by Iranian-backed militias, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, pushed deeper into the last rebel-held enclave near a strategic border area with Israel and Lebanon in a new expansion of Tehran's influence in the war-torn country. 

The army and the Shi'ite forces advanced east and south of the Sunni-rebel held bastion of Beit Jin backed by some of the heaviest aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling since a major assault began over two months ago to seize the area, rebels said.

Haaretz reported last week the Syrian army and supporting militias have been gearing up to expand the area it controls in southern Syria near Israel's border and are likely to start their attack on rebel forces by the Syrian Mount Hermon. They may later attempt to advance southward, along Israel's border in the Golan Heights.