President Vladimir Putin says Russia has no plans to pull its military out of Syria, but isn’t building permanent facilities there.
The troops “will stay there for as long as it is to Russia’s advantage, and to fulfill our international responsibilities”, Putin said during his annual televised call-in show on Thursday.
But, he added, “we are not building long-term installations there and, if necessary, can withdraw our servicemen quite quickly without any material losses”.
Putin called the Syrian war “an unique experience” for Russian troops.
“Firstly, the use of our armed forces on the battlefield is … a unique tool by which to improve our armed forces. No amount of military exercise could compare with the use of force in combat conditions,” the Russian president said.
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“Let me remind you that thousands of militants left Russia and the countries of Central Asia – with whom we do not have hard borders – and gathered on Syrian soil. It was better to deal with them there … liquidate them there, than let them come back here weapons in hand.”
The Kremlin first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.
When asked about the possibility of a “third world war”, Putin responded the threat of an end to human civilization should be enough restraint, though he accused the United States of provocative moves.
“The threat of mutual destruction has always restrained participants of the international arena, prevented leading military powers from making hasty moves, and compelled participants to respect each other.
“US withdrawal from treaties on anti-ballistic missiles is an attempt to put an end to strategic parity, but we will respond to this,” Putin said without elaborating.