In a shocking announcement from Russia, Putin says that they’re withdrawing from their military engagement in Syria.
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he would start pulling his armed forces out of Syria, five months after he ordered a military intervention that turned the tide of the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled,” Putin said at a Kremlin meeting with his defense and foreign ministers at which he announced the withdrawal, starting on Tuesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had telephoned Assad to inform him of the Russian decision, but Peskov said the two leaders had not discussed Assad’s future – the biggest obstacle to reaching a peace agreement.
The move was announced on the day United Nations-brokered talks between the warring sides in Syria resumed in Geneva.
Putin ordered an intensification of Russia’s diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Syria, which has dragged on for five years, killed thousands of people and displaced millions, many of them seeking refuge in Europe.
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 air base in Syria’s Latakia province, from which Russia has launched most of its air strikes.
Questions remained about the practical implications of Putin’s announcement. It was not clear if Russian air strikes would stop. Russia will retain the capability to launch them, from the Latakia base.
Well dang. That’s kind of a big deal.