Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Argentine newspaper Clarin in a recent interview that Russia will maintain its military contingent in Syria as long as the local government continues to need it.
The Russian military personnel, as the Minister recalled, have been there since fall 2015 "at the invitation of the legitimate government of the Arab Republic." It then asked Moscow to help "in stabilizing the situation in the country, creating conditions for a political settlement of the acute and prolonged crisis, and also asked to help in the fight against terrorism."
"Many of the established goals and objectives have been successfully achieved. Our country has made a decisive contribution to defeating the political and military hotbed of terrorism presented by the [Syrian-hosted terrorist organization] Islamic state," Lavrov stressed, noting that Russia withdrew most of its military contingent from Syria in December 2017. However, despite this, "the Russian mission in the Arab Republic is not over yet," said the Foreign Minister.
He specifically said that, at present, "the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the Parties is fully functioning," and there are also "battalions of military assistance" as well as two military bases (at Khmeimim and Tartus). "Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that our country will maintain a military presence in Syria as long as it is necessary for the legitimate Syrian authorities and friendly forces," Lavrov concluded.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria on December 11, 2017. This order was not the first announcement by Putin of his intent to withdraw a portion of Russian forces from Syria. On March 16, 2016, Putin had announced the withdrawal of the "main body" of the Russian group from the Arab Republic.
RBC news agency reported last November, citing its sources in the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry, that the Russian authorities had planned to complete the military operation in Syria prior to the end of 2017. They also noted that Russia had considered "withdrawing from Syria at the first opportunity" as a primary goal for a long time.