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Russia Says It Is Starting To Draw Down Its Forces In Syria

Russian says its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier will leave Syria first.
Russian says its Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier will leave Syria first.

Russia says it is beginning to draw down its forces fighting in Syria's war. It decisively entered the war in September 2015, and has been a major factor keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.

This isn't the first time Russia has made this kind of announcement. "Last March, Putin also announced a withdrawal from Syria," NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow. "Instead, Russia ended up intensifying its war effort."

This latest announcement comes on the heels of a major military victory for the Syrian regime — retaking control of rebel-held portions of the northern city of Aleppo. A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey took effect a week ago and has appeared to reduce the violence in the war-torn country, though rebels and government forces have traded accusations of violations.

These developments "make Russian forces less critical to Assad at this juncture of the war — though it's unclear how extensive the drawdown might be," The Associated Press reports.

The chief of Russia's General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, says Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be the first to go, along with its accompanying ships.

"In accordance with the decision by Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin, Russia's Defense Ministry is starting to downsize the grouping of the armed forces in Syria," Gerasimov said in comments broadcast on state television.

The aircraft carrier will start moving Friday back toward Russia, Gerasimov said.

The Admiral Kuznetsov has been involved in combat operations since mid-November, according to the AP. Here's more from the news service:

"The ship has so far lost two aircraft — an Su-33 fighter jet that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea in December as it returned to the carrier following a sortie over Syria. In November, a MiG-29 crashed into the sea while trying to land on the vessel."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.