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 Putin orders troops' withdrawal from Syria

President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday ordered the withdrawal of the “main part” of Russian forces in Syria.

He said this surprise move was justified by the "overall completion" of Moscow's military mission in the war-ravaged country, Censor.NET reports citing The New York Times.

Mr. Putin's order, reported by the state news media, came as the war in Syria was about to enter its sixth year and a United Nations mediator was trying to revive peace talks to stop the conflict, which has displaced millions and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Russia has operated a naval base on the Syrian coast since the Soviet period, but Mr. Putin's order seemed to relate to warplanes operating from a new air base in Latakia that since September have carried out intensive bombings against rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Mr. Putin said the withdrawal would not mean the closing of the Latakia base.

Read more: Russia continues violating Turkish airspace, President Erdogan says

Since Russian warplanes began their campaign on Sept. 30, Mr. Assad has gained ground against rebel forces and headed off the risk that his regime, Russia's closest ally in the Middle East, might collapse.

"I believe, that the tasks put before the defense ministry have been completed over all," Mr. Putin told Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov at a meeting in the Kremlin on Monday evening. "Because of this, I have ordered that from tomorrow the main part of our military groups will begin their withdrawal from the Syrian Arab Republic."

The Kremlin said Mr. Putin had telephoned the Syrian president to inform him of the Russian withdrawal, but gave no details of Mr. Assad's reaction to the move, saying only that he had expressed thanks for Russia's help and had praised the "professionalism and heroism" of Russian servicemen.

"The leaders noted that the actions of the Russian air forces have allowed a significant turn in the fight against terrorists," a statement on the Kremlin website said.

Read more: Russia and US agree to cease fire in Syria on Feb. 27, - Reuters

Russia's military intervention in Syria, which involved the deployment of 45 strategic and tactical bombers as well as fighter planes, helicopters and antiaircraft systems, was Moscow's first such action outside the former Soviet Union since the collapse of communism in 1991.

The state-controlled news media in Russia trumpeted the intervention as a sign that Moscow had recovered its role as a global military power. Television news broadcasters, after weeks of hailing the operation daily, seemed stunned Monday evening when news of the withdrawal first broke.

Russian warplanes gave a major boost to Mr. Assad's fading military fortunes, flying more than 9,000 sorties and helping the Syrian government regain control of 400 settlements, according to Mr. Shoigu, the Russian defense minister.

The decision to withdraw, announced as abruptly as Russia's initial decision to intervene, could allow Mr. Putin to avoid the risk that what has been a relatively painless and, in both military and public relations terms, highly successful mission for Russia could turn into a quagmire costly in lives, money and political capital for the Kremlin.

Read more: French President warns of risk of war between Turkey and Russia over Syria, - Reuters

Mr. Putin's announcement appeared to catch the United States and other Western countries by surprise.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said he had not seen reports of Russia's possible withdrawal from Syria, but the Obama administration has frequently expressed frustration with Russia's continued military support for Mr. Assad, whom the Americans have long insisted should step down.

"Obviously, we have talked about how Russia's continued military intervention to prop up the Assad regime made the efforts to make a political transition increasingly more difficult," Mr. Earnest said.

Источник: https://en.censor.net.ua/n379096