The Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday ordered his army to begin withdrawing Russian forces from Syria and said that Russia’s military intervention has achieved its objectives to a large extent. The Russian president held a meeting with the Russian ministers of defence and foreign affairs and told them that the withdrawal will begin as of today whilst an aerial presence to monitor the ceasefire will be maintained.
This remarkable development in the Syrian crisis coincided with the beginning of a second round of indirect talks on Syria in Geneva. The UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura placed the “transitional stage” in Syria at the forefront of negotiations that began yesterday. He commented that this political transition was “the mother of all issues” and that everyone has arrived at the “stage of reality”.
However, the head of the regime’s delegation Bashar Jaafari said that “there is no such thing as a transitional phase, and we should be very wary of these terms”.
The Russian decision to withdraw from Syria came as a surprise to the American administration. When American officials were asked to comment on the Russian decision, they said that they would enquire about the matter and seek more information. A senior official at the White House indicated that there was a possibility that President Obama and President Vladimir Putin would have a telephone conversation to discuss the decision, obtain details about it and ascertain Russian attitudes towards Syria after the military withdrawal.
The Syrian opposition welcomed the decision by saying that the withdrawal would put pressure on the Syrian authorities and give the peace talks a positive momentum. Reuters quoted the spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Salem Al-Muslat as saying that if the Russians were “serious” about implementing the withdrawal, then that would give a positive impetus to the talks, pressurise the regime and change things a lot as a result of this.
Putin confirmed that Russian troops have completed the tasks assigned to them at the beginning of the military operations and pointed out that the decision to withdraw will only apply to the majority of Russian troops; this means that the naval base in Tartus and the main air base in Humaimeem will remain.
Since the beginning of Russian military strikes and Russian intervention inside Syria, the United States has harshly criticised these Russian actions and has accused Moscow of targeting Syrian opposition sites rather than sites occupied by ISIS.