The Russian military forces will gradually pull out from Syria, after an unexpected announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I consider the mission set for the defense ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished,” Putin said in a meeting at the Kremlin on late Monday and added. “I am therefore ordering the defense ministry to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our military force from the Syrian Arab Republic from tomorrow.”
Russia, a close ally of the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, claimed that it participated in the Syrian war in order to “fight terrorism” but many organizations accused the Russians of performing airstrikes and military operations mainly against the forces which oppose Assad and not the Islamic State (IS).
Last month, it was reported that after five years of fighting, al-Assad has finally managed to drive back rebel forces with the Russian support. The office of Assad, published a statement saying that the Syrian regime had agreed with Russian move and the pullout was “in accordance with the situation on the ground” as the Russian and Syrian forces secured “victories against terrorism and returned security to the country.”
According to the British daily The Guardian, it remains to be seen if the withdrawal order is for real. Putin ordered the pullout to start today, but he didn’t set an end date. Moreover, the Hemeimeem airbase outside Latakia, Syria from which Russia has launched its airstrikes will remain operational.
Russian website Russia Today (RT), reported that Putin had a phone conversation with US President, Barack Obama after the unexpected announcement and told him that his decision to withdraw the Russian troops from Syria will “certainly serve as a good signal to all conflicting sides and create conditions for the start of a true peace process.”
According to a White House statement, Obama welcomed the “much-needed reduction in violence” since the Syrian cease-fire took effect late last month, while he “underscored that a political transition is required to end the violence in Syria.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also welcomed Moscow’s announcement saying that “this will increase the pressure on the al-Assad regime to finally and seriously negotiate a peaceful political transition in Geneva.”
The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who restarted peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva on Monday, said he had no comment on Putin’s announcement when contacted by The Associated Press.