Russia says it has withdrawn six Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets from its airbase in Syria’s western Latakia Province and instead sent four Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft to the region.
Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said on Thursday that the six warplanes were flown back to Russia from Hmeimim Air Base.
There would be further withdrawal of other aircraft as well as flight and technical personnel in the near future, he added.
Konashenkov also noted that four Sukhoi Su-25 planes, fitted out with modern navigation systems, have been redeployed to Hmeimim Air Base under a planned rotation procedure.
Last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow’s plans to scale down its military presence in Syria following a nationwide halt to fighting in the Arab country.
Russian General Staff Chief General Valery Gerasimov said last week that the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was to leave in the first step of the drawdown.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Konashenkov confirmed that the carrier had been on its way back to Russia since January 6.
He further rejected reports of alleged Russia’s military build-up in Syria as a “primitive propaganda canard,” accusing Western media of trying to “neglect some facts only to focus on others to make a fuss.”
Moscow launched its campaign against Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria at the Damascus government’s request in September 2015. Its airstrikes have helped Syrian forces advance counterterrorism operations against foreign-backed militants operating in the Middle Eastern state since 2011.
Syria truce largely holding: UN
Separately on Thursday, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the countrywide ceasefire in Syria is largely holding, with some exceptions.
Speaking at a news conference in the Swiss city of Geneva, he stressed that the truce had not enabled humanitarian access in the conflict-ridden country as much as it was expected.
The cessation of hostilities took effect on December 30, 2016 following an agreement between Syria’s warring parties.
Touching on the upcoming Syria peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, the UN envoy expressed hope that the discussions would help consolidate the ceasefire.
He further called for the release of some two dozen buses that were prevented by terrorists from leaving the Syrian villages Fua'a and Kefraya.
Putin, Erdogan discuss Syria ceasefire
In another development on Thursday, the Kremlin said Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone conversation, during which the two officials agreed that the ceasefire in Syria was being broadly observed.
The two leaders had agreed to continue working to prepare for the Astana talks, it added.
The Kremlin also pointed out that the Russian president had discussed over phone preparations for the Syria negotiations with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Russia and Turkey have been supporting the opposite sides to the Syria conflict, but they have recently stepped up cooperation to resolve the crisis.