Russia Likely to Reduce Forces in Syria by End of 2017, Military Chief Says

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a 'new stage' had been reached as leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Sochi to take steps to end Syria's crisis

A Russian soldier in a helicopter flying over Palmyra, Syria on September 15, 2017.
/AP

The size of Russia's military force in Syria is likely to be significantly reduced and a drawdown could start before the end of the year, the chief of the Russian military general staff said on Thursday. 

Russia's military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, notably through air strikes, has been crucial in defeating Islamic State and Syrian opposition forces. 

"There is very little left to do before the completion of military objectives. Of course, a decision will be made by the supreme commander-in-chief and the deployment will be reduced," Valery Gerasimov told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and military top brass in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. 

Gerasimov said forces would likely be "substantially" reduced but leave Russia with two military bases, a ceasefire-monitoring centre and "a number of necessary structures to support the situation which has developed" in Syria. 

Putin hosted Assad in Sochi on Monday and discussed moving from military operations to a search for a political solution to Syria's conflict. 

On Wednesday, Putin won the backing of Turkey and Iran to host a Syrian peace conference, taking the central role in a major diplomatic push to finally end Syria's civil war, now in its seventh year. 

In March last year Putin said Russia had achieved its goals in Syria and ordered the withdrawal of the "main part" of its forces. However, a U.S.-led coalition operating in Syria said that after that statement Russia's combat power was largely intact. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, discussing the fight against terrorism and the prospects for a political settlement in Syria, the Kremlin said onTuesday. The meeting was a rare instance of Assad leaving his country.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a "new stage" had been reached in the Syria crisis but achieving a political solution would require compromises from all sides, including the Syrian government.

A three-way summit in Sochi on Wednesday between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran could produce decisive steps towards ending the bloodshed in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the start of their talks.

Russia, Iran and Turkey have helped Syria to maintain stability and avoid being taken over by international terrorists, which would have been a "humanitarian catastrophe," Putin said in comments carried by state media.