Russian military presence in Syria to stay: Moscow

Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The head of Russia's army said Tuesday that Moscow had no intention to end its military presence in Syria despite the escalating violence and threat of President Bashar al-Assad's fall.

"Why are you so worried about Syria?" Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov demanded in response to a question about reports that Russia was in the process of evacuating its Syrian naval base and pulling out senior military personnel.

"All the plans that we have in place are working and no one is running away from there," news agencies quoted Makarov as saying.

"I would think it is premature to start making any conclusions and saying that we ran away," Makarov said.

The Russian media have been swirling with unconfirmed reports of the military winding down its presence in the Tartus naval center that Moscow has leased from its closest Arab ally since Soviet times.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily this month also said the navy had decided to end prematurely its summer exercises near Syria and to pull out of the region in a signal to the West of its refusal to defend Assad with force.

The Russian military still supplies the regime with weapons under contracts it signed before the bloodshed began some 17 months ago.

Russia has been embroiled in a diplomatic standoff with the United States over the Syrian crisis, insisting on a Syrian-led political solution and blocking Western attempts to open the door for military action at the UN Security Council.

Western states have called for Assad to resign, and are working with Syrian rebels to push for his ouster.

Russia, along with China, have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions, fearing Western attempts to exploit the crisis to further their own interests.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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