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Russian defense minister meets Syria’s Assad, inspects Khmeimim air base

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in capital Damascus and inspected Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
According to a statement released by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday, Shoigu and Assad met on a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the statement, Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov noted that battling terrorism and furthering military cooperation were discussed during the meeting.
“Topical issues concerning military cooperation between the two countries’ defense ministries, as well as certain aspects of cooperation in the fight against terror groups that are active on Syrian territory, were discussed at the meeting,” said Konashenkov.
Shoigu also carried out an inspection of the Khmeimim Air Base, where he met with Russian commanders and pilots in their living quarters, added Konashenkov.
“The Defense Minister ordered the commanders of the air base to boost comprehensive support to the locals, especially in the areas blocked by terrorists,” he noted.
On Friday, Putin stressed that maintaining Syria’s integrity is of the highest priority, and warned that the disintegration of the country would be a “destabilizing factor not only for the region, but for the whole world.”
“We must act carefully, step by step, aiming to establish trust between all sides to the conflict,” said Putin. He added that if “we want to promote the principle of democracy, let’s do so with democratic instruments.” 
On March 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military pull-out from Syria; however, forces remain mainly at the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia and at the Tartus naval base to help maintain a Moscow-Washington brokered ceasefire.
Russian air force pilots walk on the tarmac upon their arrival from Syria at an airbase in the southern Russia's Krasnodar region, on March 16, 2016. (AFP)
Russia started its military campaign in Syria on September 30, 2015, based on a request from the Syrian government.
The airstrikes have greatly boosted the morale of the Syrian army as it has managed to retake key areas from militants across the country with Russia's support.
According to UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, estimates show that over 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March 2011. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.

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Russian defense minister meets Syria’s Assad, inspects Khmeimim air base

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