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4,000 Russian nationals fight among militants in Syria - Putin

Russia’s task in Syria is to preserve the legitimate power in the country and eradicate terrorism, Russian President said

MOSCOW, February 23. /TASS/. At least 4,000 Russian nationals fight among militants in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday at a meeting with officers of the Northern Fleet.

"It is no less important for us that, unfortunately, a large number of militants, who came from former Soviet republics and from Russia itself, have accumulated in Syria," Putin said. "According to our preliminary information, there are thousands of them, approximately nearly 4,000 Russians and about 5,000 nationals from republics of the former Soviet Union, according to the information of the General Staff’s GRU Main Intelligence Administration, FSB (Federal Security Service) and other our special services."

Putin has pointed out that due to visa-free travel across almost entire post-Soviet space, one should realize what huge threat is hidden "in that hotbed of terrorism especially for us, for Russia."

By performing combat tasks on remote frontiers, the military directly help ensure Russia’s security, he said.

"I really want to thank you very much for this," Putin said, noting that the combat experiences gained in Syria would be studied and applied by all sailors.

Russia’s task in Syria is to preserve legitimate power

Russia’s task in Syria is to preserve the legitimate power in the country and eradicate terrorism, Putin said.

"We have no plans to interfere in Syrian domestic affairs. Our task is to stabilize the legitimate power in the country and to strike a decisive blow on international terrorism," Putin said at a meeting with the Northern Fleet servicemen.

"The sooner political settlement starts in the country, the more chances we and the international community will have to put an end to the terrorist plague on the Syrian territory," the president said.

He expressed hope for the success of the intra-Syrian talks starting in Geneva on Thursday, adding that Russia and the international community are interested in the victory over terrorism in Syria.

"But we will not and should not interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs," Putin said.

Signs of confessional division present in Syria

Syria has signs of confessional division, Putin said.

"I am particularly concerned about confessional division, that is when representatives of one confessional group are concentrated in some regions of the country (Syria), whereas representatives of another (group) - in some other (regions)," Putin said. "It is a prototype of possible negative consequences for that country."

Syria is a multiethnic and multi-confessional state, or "a secular state as it used to be for a long time and it was a guarantee of the country’s territorial integrity," the Russian leader said.

Along with this, the Syrians should decide on the issue of the country’s territorial integrity, he said.

"We should make every effort to avoid any external interference in the resolution of the key problem, the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity," Putin told servicemen. "And our task, as we have been doing this particular work, is to fight against terrorist groups.".

Russian Northern Fleet’s operation has caused enormous harm to militants in Syria, Russian President said.

"You have coped with the set tasks and done enormous, considerable harm to international terrorist groups, their bases, ammunition depots, equipment and infrastructure," Putin said.

The president congratulated the officers on Defender of the Fatherland Day and had warm words for them for their work.

Putin said that the sailors had opened a new page in the history of the Russian Navy, "not due to the fact that you were on this long-distance voyage, a successful but difficult voyage in conditions, to be honest, when our efforts to battle international terrorism were opposed, rather than assisted, by our so-called ‘partners."

Putin pointed out that there were some novelties in this military operation, in particular the use of precision weapons and Mig-29 jet fighters at sea, he said, adding the operation had helped create conditions to continue peace talks.