Russia begins military withdrawal in Syria

Vladimir Putin has agreed to reduce military deployment under the fragile Syrian ceasefire deal

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Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Picture by Gareth Fuller PA Wire/PA Images

Russia has begun to withdraw some of its military forces in Syria, Russian news agencies have reported.

Russia's naval fleet, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier off the Syrian coast, will be the first to return.

"In accordance with the decision of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, (President) Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defence Ministry is beginning to reduce its armed forces deployment in Syria," General Valery Gerasimov said.

Mr Putin has agreed to reduce military deployment in Syria under a fragile ceasefire deal between Syrian opposition groups and the regime.

Airstrikes from the Admiral Kuznetsov began in mid-November, marking the first time the carrier has been used in combat.

It lost two aircraft - MiG-29 and Su-33 fighter jets that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea in November and December last year.

Moscow has been a key supporter of President Bashar al Assad's government and forces in the country's devastating civil war.

Since September 2015, Russia had boosted its firepower in Syria in support of regime forces targeting the second city of Aleppo.

Troops loyal to Mr Assad finally ousted rebels from the city last month in their biggest victory in more than five years of fighting.

Following that victory, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution which endorses a ceasefire in Syria's civil war.

The ceasefire is the third truce which seeks to end nearly six years of war.

The resolution calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country. 

It also anticipates a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January.

These talks would be the first in nearly a year and would be mediated by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The truce has mostly held but not altogether halted fighting in the country.

The government and opposition have blamed each other for violations of the truce.