Two Russian Sukhoi Su-25 bombers at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province. AFP / Paul GYPTEAU
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Around a dozen Russian warplanes stand on the tarmac at the Hmeimim base inside government-held territory on Syria's Mediterranean coast.A month ago Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised the West by ordering the "main part" of his forces to pull out – just as he had when launching Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria around five months earlier to back up ally Bashar Assad.The partial withdrawal, however, does not mean that Moscow's forces are not still heavily involved in the fighting in Syria.In terms of ground forces, the official narrative remains that Russian artillery and troops are not engaged directly in front-line fighting.Moscow does admit that its advisers and special operations forces on the ground played an "essential" role in planning the operations and guiding Russian airstrikes.Military spokesman Konashenkov insisted that Moscow has left enough hardware behind in Syria to carry out all the tasks it needs to.
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