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First group of Russian warplanes leaves Syria for Russia — defense ministry

March 15, 11:26 UTC+3 MOSCOW MOSCOW March, 15. /TASS
The group consists of the leader plane - a Tupolev-154 liner - and multi-role Sukhoi-34 bombers
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© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

MOSCOW, March 15. /TASS/. The first group of Russian planes has left the Hmeimim air base in Syria for their permanent locations, the Russian Defense Ministry has said.

"The group consists of the leader plane - a Tupolev-154 liner and multi-role Sukhoi-34 bombers," the ministry specified.

The planes will be leaving Hmeimim for Russia in groups.

"Each group consists of the leader - a military transport jet (a Tupolev-154 or Ilyushin-76) carrying engineering personnel and material assets and equipment, followed by Russian combat planes of different types," the defense ministry explained.

After crossing the Russian border the planes will head for their respective bases, making stops for refueling and maintenance, if need be, the ministry said.

The Kremlin press service released a statement on Monday evening that the Russian and Syrian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, agreed to start withdrawing the main part of the Russian aviation task force from Syria because the Russian Aerospace Forces had fulfilled the fundamental tasks assigned to them. Russia will leave an air flight control center in the Syrian territory that will monitor the observation of the Syrian ceasefire.

Russia's military operation in Syria

Russia’s Aerospace Force started delivering strikes in Syria at facilities of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups (both banned in Russia) on September 30, 2015. The air group initially comprised over 50 aircraft and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-24M, Su-25SM and state-of-the-art Su-34 aircraft. They were redeployed to the Hmeimim airbase in the province of Latakia. On October 7, Moscow also involved the Russian Navy in the military operation. Four missile ships of the Caspian Flotilla fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles (NATO codename Sizzler) at militants’ facilities in Syria.

In mid-November, after an alleged terrorist attack on Russian passenger jet that fell in Egypt killing 224 people on board, Moscow increased the number of aircraft taking part in the operation in Syria by several dozen and involved strategic bombers in the strikes as well. Targets of the Russian aircraft include terrorists’ gasoline tankers and oil refineries. Russia’s aircraft have made thousands of sorties since the start of the operation in Syria, with over a hundred of them performed by long-range aircraft.

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter brought down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber involved in Moscow’s military operation against the Islamic State (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia).  Ankara claimed the warplane violated the Turkey’s airspace. The Russian Defense Ministry said the warplane was flying over Syrian territory without violating Turkey’s airspace. The Russian president referred to the attack as a “stab in Russia’s back” and promised that the move would cause response action from Russia. Moscow deployed new S-400 air defense systems in Syria in order to protect the warplanes involved in the military operation and started arming the fighters intended to provide air support to bombers and attack aircraft in Syria with air-to-air missiles.

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