The announcement Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia is pulling the bulk of its military contingent out of Syria was covered extensively by Russian state-controlled media as Kremlin-loyal officials jumped to hail the decision as a victory and stress that Russia would continue to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A meeting of Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during which Putin ordered the pullout, was shown repeatedly by state-owned television channels.
“Our soldiers and, above all, our pilots have realized a crucial turning point in the situation in the Middle East. They have become the main organizer of the war on terrorism. They supported the Syrian armed forces, Kurdish groups, and people’s militias and have achieved victory,” said analyst Leonid Ivashov, who was shown by Kremlin-friendly tabloid LifeNews.
Other officials praised the achievements of Russian diplomats and the country’s military and boasted that Russia's Syrian bombing campaign, launched at the end of September, had been crucial in achieving a February ceasefire between forces loyal to Assad and the majority of opposition groups.
“Over the last five months, our military and our diplomats have achieve an amazing success that has eluded the U.S. over the last several years,” Sergei Zheleznyak, the deputy chairman of Russia’s lower house of parliament, told state-owned news channel Rossiya-24.
The Russian currency strengthened slightly in after-hours trading in Moscow following the news, reaching 69.6 rubles to the U.S. dollar.
“Putin ordered the withdrawal of troops from Syria. That’s wise. We have solved all our tasks. The terrorists are broken. The West has understood and gone quiet,” tweeted Ernest Makarenko, an official in the Moscow region.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, denied during an interview on Rossiya 24 that Russia had achieved “victory” over terrorism, and he criticized the West for a a “deficit of political will” in tackling the problem.
The ceasefire agreed last month in Syria does not cover the Islamic State group or the al Nusra Front, the al Qaeda offshoot in the country.
The announcement of Russia's withdrawal, which was released around 8 p.m. in Moscow, led most evening news bulletins. State-owned television channels carried a statement from Syrian opposition groups praising the decision.
“For Russia, at the present day, this is the only correct decision,” said Leonid Ishaev, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics, during an analysis piece for viewers of state-owned Rossiya 24.
Other senior lawmakers stressed that the decision to pull out the bulk of Russia’s military force did not mean that it was abandoning Assad, and said military and technical assistance for the Syrian regime would continue.
The timing of the announcement immediately prompted speculation it was designed to influence the outcome of peace talks over Syria, which resumed Monday in Geneva, with some suggesting that the withdrawal could pressure Assad to be more accommodating.
“All the essential, comfortable conditions for an internal Syrian resolution and all the conditions for a positive outcome have been put in place,” Peskov said Monday, the Dozhd television channel reported.