Putin says Russia can make powerful Syria comeback within hours
REUTERS photoRussian President Vladimir Putin on March 17 declared his country’s Syria mission a resounding success, but stressed Russia would continue to support the Syrian government and could build up its military presence in the region again within hours if necessary.
Speaking in the Kremlin at a medal ceremony for military personnel who served in Syria, Putin sought to dampen any talk of a rift with Damascus, saying Moscow’s partial withdrawal from Syria had been agreed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Although he stressed his preference for a negotiated diplomatic solution to the conflict, he made clear Russia could easily scale up its forces again.
“If necessary, literally within a few hours, Russia can build up its contingent in the region to a size proportionate to the situation developing there and use the entire arsenal of capabilities at our disposal,” Reuters quoted Putin as saying.
The Russian leader on March 14 ordered the bulk of the Russian military contingent in Syria to be pulled out after five months of air strikes, saying the Kremlin had achieved most of its objectives.
Hours before Putin, Viktor Bondarev, the commander of the Russian Air Force, told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that Russia would complete the withdrawal of the bulk of its forces from Syria before the end of the week.
“I think this will be over very quickly. Within the timeframe determined by [the president] and the defense minister. Today or tomorrow... within two-three days we will complete the task,”Bondarev said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said March 16 that it has seen no significant reduction in Russia’s combat power in Syria despite Putin’s surprise announcement.
Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in the region, said Russian intentions remain unclear.
“We have not seen a significant reduction, frankly, in their combat power. Particularly the ground combat power remains static, the air combat power has been slightly reduced, but that’s it,” he said.
Warren said there were some indications of small units packing up, and eight to 10 Russian aircraft have left the country.