Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country could scale up its military presence in Syria again within hours and will still bomb terrorist groups there despite a partial draw-down of its forces, Reuters reports.
Speaking in the Kremlin three days after he ordered Russian forces to partially withdraw from Syria, Putin said the smaller strike force he had left behind was big enough to help forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad keep advancing.
“I’m sure that we will see new and serious successes in the near future,” Putin told more than 700 members of the military at an awards ceremony.
In particular, he said, he hopes the ancient city of Palmyra, which is held by Islamic State, will soon fall to Assad’s forces.
In his first public remarks since ordering the withdrawal, Putin for the first time put an approximate price tag on the Russian operation, saying that the bulk of the expenses — 33 billion rubles (US$482 million) — had been taken from the defense ministry’s war games budget.
Russian air strikes against Islamic State, Al Nusra and other terrorist groups will press on, he said, as will a wide range of measures to aid Syrian government forces, including helping them plan their offensives.
Putin said he did not want to have to escalate Russia’s involvement in the conflict again after the draw-down and was hoping peace talks will be successful.
But he made it clear that Russia could easily scale up its forces again.
“If necessary, literally within a few hours, Russia can build up its contingent in the region to a size proportionate to the situation developing there and use the entire arsenal of capabilities at our disposal,” Putin said.
In a thinly disguised warning to Turkey and others, he said Russia is leaving behind its S-400 advanced air defense system in Syria and would not hesitate to shoot down “any target” that violated Syrian air space.
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