The Russian army announced Wednesday it had withdrawn half of its planes and helicopters deployed on its air base in Hmeimim, in northwestern Syria.
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Speaking at a security conference in Moscow, Sergey Rudskoy, Head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operations Directorate, said the establishment of a cease-fire in Syria at the end of December and the progressive stabilization of the situation allowed Moscow “to withdraw almost half of the aircraft forces spread of Hmeimim base”, reported AFP.
According to the report, Rudskoy didn’t specify how many machines were withdrawn, neither how many of them still remain in the air base. However, he said that “the highest number” of military aircraft that supported the Damascus regime in strikes in Syria against jihadists “never exceeded 35” since the beginning of Russia’s military intervention in the end of September 2015.
He also said “more than 23,000 flights and around 77,000 strikes” were carried out by Russia aircraft during that period, and that 80 drones are currently used in Syria.
Also Wednesday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base earlier this month had posed a threat to Russian troops and was forcing Moscow to take extra measures to protect them.
Shoigu restated Russia's view that the strike - which Washington conducted in response to what it said was a deadly chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces - was "a crude violation of international law."
U.S. officials said at the time that they had informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes. No Russian personnel were injured in the attack.
As well as housing Syrian military jets, satellite imagery suggested that the Shayrat base was home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin's effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
"Washington's action created a threat to the lives of our servicemen who are fighting against terrorism in Syria," said Shoigu.
"Such steps are forcing us to take extra measures to ensure the safety of Russian forces." He did not specify what those measures were.
The Russian Defence Ministry said after the U.S. strike that Syrian air defences would be beefed up, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev complained that the attack was just one step away from clashing with the Russian military.