Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister says all personnel had been evacuated from the navy resupply base in Tartus, Syria, adding that not a single Russian military serviceman remained in the country.
Mikhail Bogdanov made the announcement in an interview with the Al-Hayat newspaper. “Presently, the Russian Defense Ministry has not a single person stationed in Syria. The base does not have any strategic military importance,” the newspaper quoted the Russian official as saying.
Russian media have verified the statement and the business daily Vedomosti quoted an unnamed source in the Defense Ministry as saying that this was true as all military and civilian personnel had been evacuated from the Tartus base and there were no Russian military instructors working with the Syrian military forces. The source added that 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 currently has a 16-ship flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea but none of them has called at the port of Tartus in recent months and there were no reports of such plans.
Mikhail Bogdanov is also Russian President’s plenipotentiary for Middle East issues and he headed the Russian delegation at this week’s talks between Russia, US and UN on preparations of the major international conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva-2.
Following the Tuesday round of talks another Russian diplomat – Deputy Foreign Minister Gennadiy Gatilov – told reporters that the sides failed to agree on a number of questions and the terms of the future conference were not yet agreed. In particular, the participants of the talks varied on Iran’s possible role in the future conference.
Moscow supports Tehran’s participation in talks as it would make a positive contribution to the possible political settlement in Syria, the Russian official noted.
Besides, the participation of some of the Syrian opposition groups remains under question though the US side said they were working on this, Gatilov added.
The Russian diplomat said that the supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition were not discussed at Tuesday's talks, though he noted that this issue “was not creating positive political environment for the start of the political process.”
Gatilov said that Russia still hoped the plan to call the international conference would end in success. In particular, the issue will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry, due soon within the framework of the ASEAN conference in Brunei.