Russia's main troops will withdraw from Syria beginning Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday. The Russian leader said he had achieved his goals after the Kremlin began airstrikes in Syria in late September, the BBC reported.
Putin spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad about his decision, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed. The sudden announcement, close to the five-year anniversary of the conflict, comes as peace talks in Geneva continued Monday. Western leaders have accused Putin of using Russian airstrikes to prop up the regime of longtime ally Assad.
Russia's economy has been badly battered following the drop in oil prices and continuing Western economic sanctions over the country's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Low oil prices have forced the Kremlin to cut back its military budget by 5 percent in 2016, a move Putin still has to approve.
"I think that the tasks set to the defense ministry are generally fulfilled. That is why I order to begin withdrawal of most of our military group from Syria starting from tomorrow," Putin said, according to Russian news agency TASS. "Besides, our military, soldiers and officers demonstrated professionalism, teamwork and ability to organize combat work far away from their territory, having no common borders with the theater of war.”
Russia’s military operation in Syria has cost the government approximately $3 million a day, according to figures from IHS Jane’s, a military analysis group. Putin said he hoped the withdrawal of troops would help the peace process in Syria and instructed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to increase Russia’s role in the peace process. Putin said Russia’s Hmeimim airbase, in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, and its port at Tartus would both continue operating.
In a telephone conversation, Putin and Assad discussed how Russia’s intervention in the conflict had “brought about a real turnabout in the fight against the terrorists in Syria,” according to a statement issued by the Kremlin. The leaders said the ceasefire agreed to between the U.S. and Russia at the end of February had decreased the death toll. The Syrian leader said he was prepared to discuss a political settlement to the continuing conflict “as soon as possible.” Both leaders said they hoped the United Nations-backed talks in Geneva would lead to results.
The civil war in Syria has left over 250,000 dead and displaced millions, partly spurring the refugee crisis in Europe.