Russia Withdraws Military Personnel from Syria
Russia has withdrawn all its military personnel from Syria and left its strategic Tartus naval center unstaffed because of the escalating security threat in the war-torn country, AFP reported on Wednesday, citing the Russian Vedomosti daily.
The respected business daily cited an unnamed source in the Russian defense ministry as saying that no Russian defense ministry military or civilian personnel were now present in Syria, a Soviet-era ally of Moscow.
The source said the decision was taken to limit the dangers posed to Russians amid a raging civil war and to reduce the threat of political damage that could result from Russians being killed by either side.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov appeared to confirm the evacuation of military staff in an interview with the London-published Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat published last Friday.
"Today, the Russian defense ministry does not have a single person in Syria," he was quoted by AFP as having said.
"In Tartus, we never had a base in the first place. It is a technical facility for maintaining ships sailing in the Mediterranean," he added.
The facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus, located in the Alawite Muslim heartland region of President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, is Russia's only such asset outside the former Soviet Union.
The Vedomosti report said the decision to remove defense ministry personnel did not cover technical experts who are hired by the Syrian government to help train its army use Russian-issued weapons.
Russia supplies ground-to-surface interceptor missiles to Syria as well as warplanes and helicopters and other heavy machinery meant for national self-defense.
Russia recently indicated that it plans to provide President Bashar Al-Assad with advanced S-300 missiles despite a request by Israel not to do so.
Moscow defends its military sales to Syria by arguing that it is only fulfilling contracts signed before the current conflict broke out in March 2011.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that his country would also not rule out sending fresh arms to the Syrian regime.
He has said that the Syrian rebels are “cannibals” and should not be given arms, referring to video footage posted on the Internet last month of a rebel fighter eating the heart of a government soldier.