Russia announced yesterday that it was beginning to scale down its military intervention in Syria, beginning with the withdrawal of its ageing aircraft carrier after a tour of duty marred by crashed jets and technical problems.
General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, said that the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, would leave the Syrian coast after orders from Vladimir Putin to start withdrawing Russian forces.
"In accordance with the decision by the supreme commander-in-chief Vladimir Putin, the defence ministry is starting to downsize the grouping of armed forces in Syria," said Gen Gerasimov.
The announcement came as fierce fighting continued near Damascus as Syrian regime forces tried to recapture a strategic valley that supplies much of the drinking water for the capital. More than five million people in the area are without water, according to the UN.
Gen Gerasimov did not say that Russia was bringing a complete end to its intervention in Syria, which began in September 2015 when Russian jets went into action in support of Bashar al-Assad's regime.
But the partial withdrawal is a sign of Moscow's confidence after a year of combat that turned the tide of battle in favour of Mr Assad, and several months of diplomatic activity in which it brokered a ceasefire in Syria and effectively sidelined the US. Russia has wrong-footed opponents before with announcements of a withdrawal from Syria that never materialised.
In March, Mr Putin said he was ending Russia's intervention and Western powers expressed cautious hope that the decision could lead to a breakthrough in peace talks.
Instead, his forces and continued to bomb Aleppo for another nine months. Russian forces are accused of killing thousands of civilians. Analysts said the withdrawal of the Admiral Kuznetsov may be as much to do with the 30-year-old ship's technical issues as the geopolitical situation. (© Daily Telegraph London)