MOSCOW, June 27 (UPI) — Russia has removed the last of its military personnel from Syria, including those stationed at its naval base in Tartus, military officials said.
While Russian officials confirmed the evacuations Wednesday, there has been no official confirmation of a claim from the rebel Free Syrian Army that a Russian plane was shot down and its pilot capture in the Aleppo area, Britain’s The Guardian reported.
A 16-ship Russian naval task remains in the eastern Mediterranean Sea after the evacuation of the facility in Tartus, Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East.
Cyprus has made its ports available to the Russian fleet, The Guardian said.
Russia is one of the few major allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It repeatedly blocked U.S.-led attempts in the United Nations to sanction Assad’s regime.
News Russian forces pulled out of Syria first became public last week in an interview Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov gave to the newspaper al-Hayat.
“Today, the Russian Defense Ministry does not have a single person in Syria,” he said during the interview.
Russian business daily Vedomosti quoted an unnamed ministry official as saying there were “neither servicemen nor civilians in Syria any more. Or Russian military instructors assigned to units of the Syrian regular army, for that matter.”
Vedomosti said technical experts hired by the Syrian government to train its army to use Russian-issued weapons would remain.
Russia Today, the Russia-based television news network, said the withdrawal was prompted “not only by the increased risks caused by the ongoing military conflict, but also by the fact that in the current conditions any incident involving Russian servicemen would likely have some unfavorable reaction from the international community.”
Russia has been evacuating its citizens from Syria for weeks. Interfax news agency reported 128 Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics left Syria Wednesday.
Bogdanov said about 30,000 Russians live in Syria.