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Putin announces plans to reinforce Syrian army

President Vladimir Putin has announced Russia’s “medium-term” plans to beef up the Syrian army that is battling foreign-backed terrorist groups.

Speaking at a live question and answer session with citizens in Moscow on Thursday, Putin said the reinforcement of the Syrian army would allow Russian troops in the Arab country to return to their home bases.

Russia’s air force, however, will continue helping Syria where necessary, Putin said, even though he expressed his keenness for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Syria.

“We aim to establish a process a political settlement (in Syria) between all the sides involved,” he said.

Invaluable experience

Putin said the Russian army had gained “priceless” experience in Syria, testing state-of-the art weapons in real combat, while the counter-terrorism campaign had allowed the country’s experts to polish weapons designs.

Russia launched its campaign against Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria at the Damascus government’s request in September 2015. Russian airstrikes have helped Syrian forces advance against foreign-backed militants.

Cooperation with US 

Putin further expressed Moscow’s resolve to re-engage with the US on several pressing international issues, including arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, combating poverty and climate change.

He mentioned the 2015 landmark nuclear accord with Iran nuclear as “a positive example of our cooperation” with Washington.

“This means we can negotiate and work together. The Syrian issue, the Middle East issue – it’s obvious to everyone that nothing will be achieved without our constructive dialogue,” Putin said.

‘Western sanctions benefited Russia’

Putin said Western sanctions had forced Russia to “switch on our brains and talents” to reduce dependence on energy exports, adding his country had climbed out of recession despite the restrictive measures.

A journalist watches a live broadcast on an electronic screen showing a nationwide call-in attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, June 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The sanctions have only made Russia stronger, Putin said in his nationwide call-in which came on the same day the US Senate voted overwhelmingly to punish Russia for alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

US senators on Wednesday approved a wide-ranging package of sanctions that targets key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals who allegedly carried out cyber attacks.

Putin said Russia has done nothing to warrant the US Senate’s recent move which highlights the West’s policy of containing Russia and “a continuing internal political struggle in the US.”

The new measures followed up on several rounds of other sanctions imposed by the US and the EU over the Black Sea Crimean Peninsula’s decision to rejoin Russia and Moscow’s alleged support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has responded to the sanctions by halting most food imports from the West.

According to Putin, Russia is recovering from the fallout of the US sanctions, saying the “crisis is over.”  He cited low inflation and rising currency reserves and modest economic growth over the past few months.

If “our partners lift the sanctions against our economy, we will respond in kind,” he said further.

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