The chief of staff of the Russian armed forces has said it has begun to withdraw its military forces from Syria, the Independent reports.
Valery Gerasimov said Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the “Admiral Kuznetsov”, and smaller accompanying warships would be the first to return from the Syrian port town of Tartous to Murmansk.
“In accordance with the decision of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defence Ministry is beginning to reduce its armed forces deployment in Syria,” TASS news agency quoted Mr Gerasimov as saying last Friday.
Mr Putin said Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria under the terms of a 30 December 2016 ceasefire deal between Syrian opposition groups and the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Russian military power has played a key role in assisting the Assad regime regain control of Aleppo, which was captured from the Syrian rebels last month.
The current ceasefire in the Syrian war was brokered by Turkey and Russia. It is nominally in place across areas of the country not controlled by ISIS or Kurdish groups, but both the government and opposition have blamed each other for several violations.
Damascus blames rebels in the valley of Wadi Barada for cutting off the water supply to the capital, which the UN warned last Thursday could constitute a war crime.
In turn, the rebels say air raids and ground assaults on the area by the regime forces and allied Lebanese Hezbollah have not ceased, despite the ceasefire.
Peace negotiations are supposed to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, later this month.
It is widely thought that Aleppo’s fall has strengthened Assad’s position enough to allow Russia to begin a military exit, although numerous analysts have stated that Moscow’s renewed influence in the Middle East is not likely to decrease.
Moscow continues to maintain two army bases in government-held Syria.