All of Russia’s military personnel have been successfully evacuated from Syria, including from its Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, Russian media reported Wednesday. Moscow is Syria's sole remaining major ally, other than Iran.
“We have neither servicemen nor civilians in Syria anymore. Or Russian military instructors assigned to units of the Syrian regular army, for that matter,” a Russian defense ministry spokesperson told the Vedomosti newspaper in Moscow.
On the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, “Russia Today,” an announcement added, “The withdrawal was prompted not only by the increased risks caused by the ongoing military conflict, but also by the fact that in the current conditions any incident involving Russian servicemen would likely have some unfavorable reaction from the international community.”
The news had already made headlines last week. Russian deputy foreign ministry Mikhail Bogdanov told the al-Hayat newspaper, “Today, the Russian defense ministry does not have a single person in Syria,” he said. Tartus was played down as a “technical facility for maintaining ships sailing in the Mediterranean.”
According to Interfax, 128 Russian citizens and nationals from other former Soviet satellites left Syria on Wednesday in aircraft that had delivered humanitarian supplies the day before. About 30,000 Russian citizens still live in Syria, some in rebel-held areas, according to a report published in The Guardian, despite the fact that Moscow has been slowing pulling out its people for months.
A 16-vessel naval task force has been assigned to remain in the eastern Mediterranean, Bogdanov said, and arms shipments to the Syrian government will continue in accordance with current contracts – including anti-aircraft weaponry. He was not specific about any timelines for delivery, however, saying the details were the purview of the “Supreme Command.”
Cyprus meanwhile is allowing Russia to use its ports, and Cypriot media report the government may agree to allow Moscow to use its base at Paphos for military aircraft.