: Reuters: Exclusive: Russia, despite draw down, shipping more to Syria than removing

14:50 Mar. 30, 2016

Reuters: Exclusive: Russia, despite draw down, shipping more to Syria than removing

ship 'Yauza', which belongs to Russian Navy. (AP Photo)

3 days after Putin's March 14 declaration, the Yauza, part of the Syrian Express, left Novorossiysk for Tartous, Russia's naval facility in Syria

When Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of most of Russia's military contingent from Syria there was an expectation that the Yauza, a Russian naval icebreaker and one of the mission's main supply vessels, would return home to its Arctic Ocean port.

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Instead, three days after Putin's March 14 declaration, the Yauza, part of the "Syrian Express", the nickname given to the ships that have kept Russian forces supplied, left the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk for Tartous, Russia's naval facility in Syria.

Whatever it was carrying was heavy; it sat so low in the water that its load line was barely visible.

Its movements and those of other Russian ships in the two weeks since Putin's announcement of a partial withdrawal suggest Moscow has in fact shipped more equipment and supplies to Syria than it has brought back in the same period, a Reuters analysis shows.

It is not known what the ships were carrying or how much equipment has been flown out in giant cargo planes accompanying returning war planes.

But the movements - while only a partial snapshot - suggest Russia is working intensively to maintain its military infrastructure in Syria and to supply the Syrian army so that it can scale up again swiftly if need be.

Watch also Did Putin use Syria as a training ground for Russian Air and Naval Forces?

Putin has not detailed what would prompt such a move, but any perceived threat to Russia's bases in Syria or any sign that President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow's closest Middle East ally, was in peril would be likely to trigger a powerful return.

Watch aslo Ukraine's navy two years after Russia's annexation of Crimea

Russia operates an air base in Hmeymim and a naval facility at Tartous. Putin has said Russia will keep both and that they will need to be well protected. Full story

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