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British Foreign Secretary Wary of Russia’s Syria Pullout Announcement

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday it remains to be seen whether Russia’s announcement it is withdrawing forces from Syria will lead to a genuine pullout.

Russian warplanes began leaving Syria on Tuesday after Moscow’s surprise decision to withdraw most of its forces from the war-torn country.

“We’ve seen before in Ukraine Russia talk about a withdrawal and then it turned out to be merely a rotation of forces,” Hammond told reporters during a trip to Iraq.

“We’ve heard Russian Defence Minister (Sergei) Shoigu say that the bombing of terrorists — which in Russian language means all opponents of the regime — will continue as before so let’s wait and see what really happens,” he said.

The White House on Tuesday said early indications were that the Russians were following through with their decision to pull out.

Hammond said there was no doubt Russia’s intervention had “strengthened the regime, improved morale of regime forces and improved the position of the regime on the ground.”

“If Russia really does withdraw its support to the regime, it will be interesting to see how long regime forces can maintain their momentum on their own initiative, without the Russians pulling their strings and providing air cover,” he said.

Moscow launched air strikes against rebel positions in September followed by a massive troop deployment that turned the tide of a long and brutal war in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

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