Russian military to withdraw from Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. March 18, 2014. (Credit: CNN)

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday that he has ordered Russian forces to begin withdrawing from Syria, saying they have achieved their goals in the country.

The pullback will begin Tuesday, the state-run Sputnik news agency reported.

“I think that the task that was assigned to the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces as a whole has achieved its goal, and so I order the defense minister to start tomorrow withdrawing the main part of our military factions from the Syrian Arab Republic,” Putin said.

Russia began airstrikes in September in support of the Syrian government in a civil war that is now nearly 5 years old.

Putin told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the decision in a telephone call, Sputnik said.

Assad “recognized the professionalism, substance and heroism of the soldiers and officers of the Russian armed forces, partaking in the armed actions, and expressed his recognition of the massive help in the fight against terrorism and the delivery to the civilian population of humanitarian cooperation,” state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Military analysts said the Russian intervention helped push back rebel and ISIS forces and bolster the position of Assad, whose government, for a time, appeared to be teetering on the edge.

“Nobody knows what is in Putin’s mind, but the point is he has no right to be in be our country in the first place. Just go,” said a spokesman for the main Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee.

The announcement of the withdrawal comes the same day as Syrian peace talks resumed in Geneva, Switzerland, and some see it as evidence that Putin is sending a message to Syrian and other forces in the region to reach a political solution, CNN’s Matthew Chance reported from Moscow.

“You can’t ignore the timing of this and the symbolism,” he said.

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