Russia has started withdrawing its forces from Syria, a military leader has confirmed.
General Valery Gerasimov said a group of ships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would be the first to leave.
He told the TASS news agency today: “In accordance with the decision of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (President) Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defense Ministry is starting to reduce the deployment of its armed forces in Syria.
It follows heavy airstrikes against anti-government rebels by Russian bombers.
“The tasks assigned to the group of aircraft carriers during its military mission have been accomplished,” added Russia’s senior commander in Syria Andrei Kartapolov.
Kartapolov said Russia still has sufficient air defense capabilities in Syria thanks to its S-300 and S-400 systems deployed in the war-torn country.
Since September 2015, Russia had stepped up its firepower on land in Syria and off the Mediterranean coast in support of regime forces targeting Aleppo’s second city.
Troops loyal to Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad finally ousted the rebels from the city last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting, paving the way for the Kremlin to launch a new impetus for a political solution to the conflict.
The announcement comes just days after the Kremlin and Turkey negotiated a ceasefire in the war-torn country that the UN believes “largely holds.”
Putin said in December that Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria under a ceasefire agreement between Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government.
Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, are currently pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Moscow launched its bombing campaign in Syria in September 2015, helping to turn the tide in favor of Assad’s struggling forces.
Putin had already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March 2016, but Moscow then had to step up its presence as the fighting intensified.