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Putin fills the gap left by the USA with a tour of the Middle East

The President orders the withdrawal of Russian troops before travel to Egypt and Turkey

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Putin fills the gap left by the USA with a tour of the Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited by surprise this Monday an air base in Syria, in which he has given order to withdraw a "significant part" of military contingent he maintains deployed in country, according to a statement by Kremlin cited by International information agencies. The president met at Hamimim Air Base ( North west) with Syrian chairman Bashar al-Assad. To whom he guaranteed that, "if terrorists return to raise ir heads, y will be beaten with unprecedented force." This unannounced scale of Putin in course of an official trip to Egypt and Turkey highlights Russia's new hegemony in Middle East after two years of direct involvement in Syrian war.

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This is not first time Kremlin has announced a withdrawal of troops from Arab country. Last January it has already ordered withdrawal of part of Russian forces after defeat of opposition in Battle of Aleppo. Russia will also not give up on continuing to use Hamimin air base and nearby port of Tartus, only one available to its fleet in Mediterranean.

Putin had achieved that Iran, also an ally of government of Damascus, and Turkey, which supports sectors of Syrian insurgency, participate in Astana forum to negotiate details of cease-fire. The most radical opposition to regime has also agreed to group itself with moderate sectors sponsored by Moscow. Egypt has acquired warplanes and helicopters from Russia, which has now become its main supplier of housewives.

The Asad once again thanked Putin, whom I visited just two weeks ago, "Russian involvement in fight against terrorism" in his country, according to state health news agency. Moscow's direct intervention overturned conflict in September 2015, when regime was cornered by advance of rebel forces.

Russian president Vladimir Putin visits Russian troops on a aeria base in province of Takia in Syria this Monday. SPUTNIK REUTERS

The Russian president also expressed his desire to soon launch so-called Syrian Congress for National Dialogue, peace conference between warring parties in conflict that he tried to sponsor last month in Sochi, on Black Sea coast. The international community and Syrian opposition have preferred to follow path of UN-sponsored negotiations in Geneva, which has been returned by Syrian government delegation on Monday after a week of absence.

The Russian President stressed that cooperation between Syrian and Russian armies has succeeded in destroying in two years "one of most powerful groups of international terrorism", referring to ISIS (Islamic State). Last Saturday, prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, proclaimed victory over ISIS, after his Iraqi troops had regained control of Syrian border. Two days earlier, Kremlin had proclaimed victory over jihadism in Syria, even though y remain rich in resistance in some strongholds.

Middle East Contact Round

The surprise visit to Syria — first from start of conflict nearly seven years ago — has been a first stage in Putin's tour of Middle East that was scheduled this Monday. The Russian president arrived at noon in Cairo at time when Kremlin unveiled for security reasons details of his scale at base of Hamimim. His Egyptian counterpart, Abdelfatá al Sisi, awaited him to sign construction agreement of first nuclear power plant in country of Nile, which will have Russian technology, in Dabaá (northwest), reports Efe. It also hoped to confirm resumption of commercial flights from Russia, suspended since November 2015, after attack that killed 224 occupants of a plane that had just taken off from tourist town of Sharm El Sheikh, on coast of Sinai in Red Sea.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shakes hand of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, this Monday in Cairo. KHALED ELFIQI EFE

Both leaders also discussed situation in Middle East, especially in Jerusalem following US president's decision, Donald Trump, to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Both Moscow and Cairo have spoken out against pronouncement made by White House. The President of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was also on Monday on official visit to Cairo. Putin called for " immediate resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks on all issues in dispute, including Jerusalem Statute" to achieve "solid and lasting agreements that collect interests of both parties" and "in accordance with consensus" Of international community ".

The final scale of Russian leader in Turkey was aimed at reinforcing international cooperation between Ankara and Moscow. Toger with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he plans to deal with agreements in energy and arms procurement sector, as well as to maintain an exchange of views on situation in Syria. Both leaders expressed concern about Trump's statement about Jerusalem. As head of Organization of Islamic Conference, Erdogan has organized a summit this Wednesday to stage condemnation of Muslim world to alteration of status quo in holy city. The Turkish president has become one of international leaders who most vehemently criticized United States and Israel for altering internation consensus in region.

But Washington is still taking steps back in Middle East. In addition to his military commitment to fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Trump's decision on Jerusalem has been one of few interventions of his administration in region.  On verge of completing mission against ISIS, White House seems to have left Kremlin with diplomatic initiative for Syrian post-war period, and various actors in conflict, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, seem to have understood that.

Even Israel has ended up recognizing growing Russian hegemony in region. Benjamin Netanyahu has traveled to Russia five times since end of 2015 to agree with Putin a system that avoids accidental confrontation between ir respective fighter planes. Israel has attacked on more than a hundred occasions objective of Lebanese guerrillas of Hezbollah, allied with regime, in Syrian territory with little fear of anti-aircraft defences of Damascus. But Netanyahu is aware of his fighters cannot escape S-400 missile anti-aircraft system that Russia has deployed in south and that 6th American fleet is no longer permanently docked in port of Haifa, as it used to in past decades.


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