Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country could again build up its military force in Syria within "hours" if needed, days after he ordered the main part of his forces to begin withdrawing from the Middle Eastern country.
Reuters reported that Putin made the remarks during a Kremlin ceremony Thursday, which was attended by hundreds of service members and military officers. Putin, who ordered the partial draw down of Russian forces in Syria to begin on Monday, said that Russia will keep carrying out air strikes against ISIS and other terror groups and will also continue to offer aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Putin claimed to favor a diplomatic solution to the years-long conflict in Syria, but added that Russia could swiftly ramp up its military presence in Syria 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.
Putin announced Monday that the main part of his forces would begin withdrawing from Syria, saying that "the task that was assigned to the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces as a whole has achieved its goal." Russia began its military intervention in Syria last September with the alleged goal of combating ISIS.
However, some Russian air strikes have targeted U.S.-backed rebels and civilian areas in Syria, leading critics to conclude that Russian forces were more focused on helping Assad defeat his opposition than on defeating the terror group. Iran has also intervened militarily in Syria to prop up Assad.
Putin said Thursday that the smaller strike force that will remain in Syria will suffice to aide Assad’s forces.
"I’m sure that we will see new and serious successes in the near future," Putin stated. He also mentioned that the scale back of Russian forces in Syria was the result of an agreement with Assad.
Russian state television reports have shown Russian military jets leaving Syria and returning to Russia over the last three days.