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Putin says Russia not planning to withdraw from Syria yet

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a live nationwide broadcast call-in in Moscow, Russia June 7, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia was not planning to withdraw its forces from Syria for now, and would keep them there for as long as it was in Russia’s interest.

“We are not yet planning a withdrawal of these military forces,” Putin told a televised call-in.

“We are not building long-term facilities there and if needed we could fairly quickly withdraw our troops without material losses,” he said.

“But for the moment, we need them there, they are carrying out important tasks, including providing security for Russia in the region, and helping our interests in the economic sphere.”

The Kremlin first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

In December, Putin flew to Syria and declared Russia’s mission accomplished, ordering a “significant part” of its contingent to start withdrawing.

No significant Russian withdrawal has been apparent.

Reporting by Christian Lowe and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey