Russia has withdrawn all its military personnel from Syrian soil, leaving its naval base in the strategic port of Tartus unmanned, as the civil war in the country continues to rage.
No defense ministry or civilian personnel are in Syria presently, a Russian defense ministry source told the business daily Vedomosti on Wednesday in comments translated by AFP.
The source added that the decision was made in order to minimize the danger to Russian citizens and limit the political damage that could result from the potential killing of Russians on Syrian territory.
On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov appeared to confirm to the London-based Al-Hayat that no Russians were present in Syria, while denying — as Russia has done all along — that Tartus was a Russian naval base.
“Today, the Russian defense ministry does not have a single person in Syria,” he said, adding “in Tartus, we never had a base in the first place. It is a technical facility for maintaining ships sailing in the Mediterranean.”
The Vedomosti report said the withdrawal of Russian personnel did not include technical experts hired by the Syrians to train regime soldiers in Russian-issued weapons use, and that Russia intended to keep several warships permanently stationed in the region.
Russia has remained a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad since the uprising began in March 2011, supplying his regime with weapons and criticizing the West for its support for the opposition.
The Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, according to the latest figures released by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.