MOSCOW (AA) – Russia will start withdrawing “most” of its forces from Syria Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday.
“I think that the tasks set to the Defense Ministry are generally fulfilled. That is why I order to begin withdrawal of most of our military group from Syria starting from tomorrow,” Russian News Agency TASS quoted Putin as saying.
His remarks came Monday at a meeting with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
However, Russian bases in Syria’s Tartus and Khmeimim are to continue operating in a routine mode, Russian agency reported.
“They are to be safely protected from the land, from the sea and from air,” it quoted Putin as telling the defense and foreign ministers.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin also discussed and coordinated the decision on beginning of withdrawal of Russia’s forces from Syria with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, the agency added.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Monday via telephone shortly after Moscow announced it would begin a withdrawal of some of it forces from Syria.
“They discussed President Putin’s announcement today of a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria and next steps required to fully implement the cessation of hostilities with the goal of advancing the political negotiations on resolution of the conflict.” the White House said in a statement.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said Russia and Syrian regime have agreed to reduce the presence of Russian air force in Syria.
“After Syrian Army’s success in fighting against terrorism and regaining the security and safety for many areas in Syria in cooperation with the Russian air force, President Assad and Putin agreed during a telephone conversation to reduce many Russian air force in Syria,” SANA said.
The news agency also reported that the reduction would be in line with the continuation of the recently agreed cessation-of-hostilities agreement and the recent developments in Syria.
The announcement about the reduction came after a fresh round of talks to resolve the Syria crisis began in Geneva Monday.
A spokesperson for the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee , Salem al-Muslet, said in Geneva Monday: “Nobody knows what is in Putin’s mind, but the point is he has no right to be in our country in the first place. Just go.”
Russia launched its military intervention in Syria in late September last year supposedly after a formal request by the Assad regime for military help.
Since then, it has been staging airstrikes against positions held by Assad’s opponents.
The U.S. and Turkey reject Russia’s presence in Syria on the grounds that Russian airstrikes killed mostly civilians.
A Pentagon official, who spoke anonymously to Anadolu Agency, said he was surprised at the announcement, which did not “sound so correct”.
Another official was not aware of Moscow informing the U.S. of the pullout but did not rule out that the move comes as a result of conversations between American and Russian defense officials.
A Pentagon spokesman said Monday that the U.S.-led coalition observed that Russian forces have moved to the west of Syria toward Daesh-controlled areas since the cessation of hostilities agreement took effect at the beginning of March.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to the UN.
(Reporters from Geneva and Damascus contributed to this AA report)
Author Fatih Erel,Sibel Uğurlu,Ayşe Hümeyra Atılgan
[Photo: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin, Moscow on 21 October, 2015. Photographer: Pool Kremlin Press Office/AA]