Russia to begin withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria

Russia to begin withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria
President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that Russian troops will begin to pull-out of Syria from Tuesday, saying Moscow will intensify its role in peace talks.
3 min read
14 March, 2016
Putin led Russia into war in Syria which has cost thousands of Syrian lives [AFP]

President Vladimir Putin Monday has announced that Russia will pull out the majority of its forces from Syria, saying that the Russian force had achieved most of its objectives.

The president said the withdrawal of troops would begin on Tuesday and Moscow would now "intensify" its role in the Syrian peace process.

Putin made the announcement during a meeting with his foreign and defence ministers in Moscow.

"I believe that the task put before the defence ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled," Putin said. 

"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."

However, activists remain sceptical about Putin's words while analysts say that the Russian mission has largely been a failure with none of its objectives met.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had informed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the decision.

"The President of Russia stated that the main tasks set before the armed forces of Russia in Syria had been completed," the Kremlin said in a statement. "It was agreed to carry out the withdrawal of the main part of Russia's airforce contingent." 

He added that Assad and Putin had agreed Russia would maintain its airbase in Latakia in Syria and naval base in Tartous.

This opens the prospect of Russian air raids in Syria continuing.

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Putin also gave no date for the final pull-out of Russian military personnel from the country, leaving the timing and scale of the withdrawal open to question.

No gains

Russia intervened in Syria's war on 30 September, saying it intended to stem Islamic State group's advances on the ground with air raids.

It soon became clear that Moscow's real intention was to target the moderate Syrian opposition who were on the brink of winning key territories in the country, including Latakia, where Russia's airbase is located. The northern province is also known as the Assad family's heartlands and its loss would inevitably lead to the collapse of the regime.

In October, Moscow announced that it would begin to wind down its air war in Syria, but appeared to do the opposite.

Since then, the vast majority of air raids have hit moderate Syrian rebel group positions, monitoring groups say.

Russia has also been guilty of striking residential areas causing massive civilian deaths.

Moscow has destroyed at least 27 medical facilities in Syria after six months of bombing. It has also been accused of killing well over 1,400 deaths and many more injuries.

Russian war planes have also allegedly hit schools and used cluster and napalm bombs in residential areas. 

The result has been that hundreds of thousands more Syrians have had to flee their homes, most of them to the Turkish border region.

Despite some initial gains by Syrian regime troops, they have been unable to wipe out the offensive.

This is despite Russian war planes concentrating most of its  firepower on the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups across the country.

Despite a ceasefire continuing in Syria and opposing sides about to meet in Geneva for peace talks, Russian war planes have continued hitting rebel areas of Aleppo and Idlib, and some extremist targets. 

Meanwhile the Islamic State group and Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate hold on to around half of the country.