U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Russia next week to hold discussions on the Syrian crisis following Russia’s move to withdraw most of its forces from the conflict-torn country, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. Meanwhile, a member from the European parliament told Russia’s Sputnik news that Moscow will continue to play a key role in the ongoing reconciliation process in Syria after it withdrew its Aerospace Forces from Syria.
Kerry’s visit to Russia will follow his return from a Cuba visit. “As we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of this horrific war, we may face the best opportunity that we've had in years to end it,” Kerry said, according to AFP, adding: “I will be travelling next week to Moscow... to discuss how we can effectively move the political process forward and try to take advantage of this moment.”
United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura called the withdrawal of the troops a “significant development” and said, according to AFP: “We hope (this) will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations.”
Although Russia pulled out most of its troops from Syria’s Hemeimeem air base in Latakia, the country will continue strikes against “terrorist targets” like the Islamic State group and al Qaeda.
“Certain positive results have been achieved. There is a real chance to end many years of confrontation and violence. But it’s too early to talk of victory over terrorism. Russia’s air force group has the task of continuing attacks on terrorist targets,” Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told reporters Tuesday, according to RIA Novosti.
Following Russia’s announcement, a commander of the Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, told AFP that the group was planning to launch fresh offensives in Syria. “It is clear that Russia has suffered defeat, and within the next 48 hours Nusra will launch an offensive in Syria,” the commander reportedly said, adding: “The Russians withdrew for one reason, and it is because while they were backing the regime, the regime was unable to hold onto the territories that it took over.”
While some countries lauded Russia’s move, Germany’s foreign minister said, according to AFP, that the move could “increase the pressure” on Syrian President Bashar Assad to negotiate. France said: “Anything that helps towards de-escalation in Syria should be encouraged.” Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegations that the move was to pressure Assad into taking a more conciliatory position during the peace negotiations between the Syrian government officials and the rebel forces in Geneva.
Mario Borghezio of the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) political group in the European Parliament told Sputnik News: "I think this is a historic contribution to the solution of the crisis in Syria. Russia shows a great sense of responsibility and will therefore definitely have a key role in the future of peace and regulation of this region so heavily burdened by conflict," adding: "The developments can be very important and perhaps decisive for the political balance of the region, with a reflection certainly also crucial from the point of view of the humanitarian crisis and therefore of the very serious problem of the millions of Syrian refugees, who Europe cares for."
The war has reportedly cost Russia $660 million since September, when the country began its anti-terror operation in Syria.
“They could stay longer, it’s not been that expensive, but this could be a nice story to tell at home,” Olga Oliker, a senior adviser and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said, adding: “This was a short, successful and inexpensive war. They didn’t get bogged down, they didn’t end up in a quagmire. This spins very nicely about a brilliant Russian success, and it’s always very nice to have a great success to point to.”