Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he was instructing his armed forces to start pulling out of Syria, over five months after he ordered the launch of a military operation supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
At a meeting in the Kremlin with his defence and foreign ministers, Putin said Russian military forces in Syria had largely fulfilled their objectives and ordered an intensification of Russia's diplomatic efforts to broker a peace deal in the country.
But the Russian leader signaled Moscow would keep a military presence: He did not give a deadline for the completion of the withdrawal and said Russian forces would stay on at the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria's Latakia province.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had telephoned Assad to inform him of the Russian decision. The move was announced on the day United Nations-brokered talks between the warring sides in Syria resumed in Geneva.
"Assad noted the professionalism, courage and heroism of the officers of the Russian armed forces that took part in the military operations and expressed deep appreciation to Russia," the Kremlin statement said.
Military campaign set ‘conditions for peace process’
The statement announcing the start of the Russian withdrawal Tuesday also noted that Moscow’s military intervention had created the conditions necessary for a peace process to proceed.
"The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process," Putin said.
"I believe that the task put before the defence ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled. With the participation of the Russian military... the Syrian armed forces and patriotic Syrian forces have been able to achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism and have taken the initiative in almost all respects," Putin said.
"I am therefore ordering the defence minister, from tomorrow, to start the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingent from the Syrian Arab Republic."
Russia began its bombing campaign in support of Assad's forces in September, a move that helped shore up the Syrian regime's crumbling forces and go on the offensive.
A temporary ceasefire in the country introduced on February 27 has largely held, despite accusations of violations from both sides, allowing aid to reach some 150,000 people living under siege.