Putin on Monday ordered "a significant part" of Moscow's military contingent to start pulling out of Syria, declaring their work largely done.

Russian fighter jets and bombers are parked at Khmeimim air base in Syria.
Russian fighter jets and bombers are parked at Khmeimim air base in Syria. (AP Archive)

The first Russian troops returned home on Tuesday from their deployment in Syria, the army said, beginning a partial withdrawal announced by President Vladimir Putin.

"The battalion of military police from the southern military district (of Russia) deployed to the Syrian Arab Republic has been flown by two military planes to Makhachkala (the capital of Dagestan) airport," the Russian army said in a statement. 

State television broadcasted images of soldiers marching out of the aircraft onto a sunny runway in the small republic in Russia's North Caucasus. 

The crews of Tu-22M3 bombers also returned to a military airport in North Ossetia before flying out to their permanent base in central Kaluga region, the army said.

The crew of an A-50 surveillance aircraft flew back to their home base in Ivanovo region where they were met by commanding officers and relatives.

On a visit to Syria on Monday, Putin ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the war-torn country, saying their task had been largely completed. 

It was the third announcement of a partial withdrawal since troops were deployed in 2015. Putin did not clarify how many soldiers would be returning home this time.

'Up to a month'

Putin, who announced last week he would seek a fourth term in a poll in March, was welcomed at Russia's Khmeimim airbase by Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad on his unannounced stopover. 

RBK news agency cited sources as saying that Russia would pull out two-thirds of its contingent, both personnel and equipment, from Syria, which could take up to a month.

Russia first intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2015, staging air strikes in support of its ally Damascus, targeting both Daesh and other terrorist elements, as well as rebels fighting government troops.

The size of the Russian deployment in Syria is not known but independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer said that up to 10,000 troops and private contractors could have taken part in the conflict. 

More than 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule that sparked a brutal crackdown. 

On Thursday, Moscow announced a "total liberation" of Syrian territory from Daesh, even though the group still controls several pockets in the country. 

Putin said both Russia's airbase Khmeimim and naval facility in Tartus would continue to function.

The Russian president made the Syria stopover, the first by a Russian head of state since president Dmitry Medvedev visited in 2010, en route to Egypt, where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi. 

Source: AFP