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Syria army strong enough after Russia withdrawal: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host his annual televised call-in show in central Moscow. ©AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Syrian army is strong enough to carry out large-scale military operations against Takfiri terrorists even after the partial pullout of Moscow’s air force.

In his annual televised phone-in on Thursday, Putin highlighted the recent victories of Syrian forces on the battlefield against the terror groups and said they managed to liberate the ancient city of Palmyra from the Daesh terrorists after Moscow withdraw some of its warplanes from the Arab state.

“The Syrian army, which is also fighting for Aleppo, does not need Russian help, Putin, adding that the Syrian troops do “not need to improve its position…They do not need to improve anything.”

The Russia leader said, however, that the situation in Aleppo Province was complicated as terrorists with al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and other militants are positioned close together.

Syrian pro-government forces gesture next to the Palmyra citadel on March 26, 2016, during a military operation to retake the ancient city from Daesh. ©AFP

“It is hard to tell them apart. They are behaving differently and are trying to improve their position, trying to regain what is lost,” the Russian president said.

Syrian forces have agreed to halt military operations against militant groups, except Daesh and al-Nusra Front, under a ceasefire agreement with the Saudi-based opposition that came into effect in late February.

Damascus and the opposition, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) have been in indirect talks, mediated by the UN, in an effort to end five years of bloodshed in the Arab state.

The latest round of peace negotiations on the Syria crisis kicked off in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

The Russian president further called on different Syrian groups to must sit down for political talks and adopt a new constitution for their country.

He said Moscow is doing everything to ensure the situation in Syria does not deteriorate, adding a political process rather than military operations will help achieve reconciliation.

“We very much hope that a political process, not the use of armed forces by both sides with support from whosoever, including our support, will lead to reconciliation,” he said.

“It is necessary to accept, reach an agreement, sit down at the negotiating table, adopt a constitution, hold early elections on the basis of the constitution and in such a way come out of the crisis," Putin added.

The Russian military has been carrying air raids against terrorist positions in Syria since September 2015 upon a request from Damascus.

Last month, Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Moscow’s forces from the Arab state after peace talks resumed between the government and the opposition resumed in Geneva.

Following the drawdown, the Syrian forces retook the ancient city of Palmyra in Homs Province from Daesh in late March, in a significant blow to the extremist terror group.

Army units are now engaged in a large-scale offensive against Daesh terrorists and al-Nusra militants in Aleppo. Syrian air forces carried out a series of intensive airstrikes against positions of the two terror groups in the embattled province.

Panama Papers mere ‘provocation’

Elsewhere in his comments, Putin slammed the offshore accounts mentioned in the so-called Panama Papers as a mere “provocation” and said the authors “throw dust into people’s eyes.”

“Who is behind these provocations? We know that there are people - staff members of American official institutions,” asked the Russian head of state.

The logo of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca is seen at the entrance of its Hong Kong office on April 14, 2016. ©AFP

The Panama Papers are a leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

The records, which were obtained from an anonymous source last week, contain information on 215,000 offshore entities connected to individuals in more than 200 countries and territories.

The files claimed that cellist Sergei Roldugin, Putin’s long-time friend and godfather to his older daughter, ran a $2 billion offshore empire.

Putin said the documents “first appeared in the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which is a part of media holding company owned by American investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.”

Putin had earlier dismissed having any links to the offshore accounts in the leaks dubbed Panama Papers, saying the files were part of Western efforts to undermine Moscow.

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