Putin orders most Russian troops out of Syria, citing “overall completion” of military goals

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 14, 2016. REUTERS

Vladimir Putin says Russian troops will begin withdrawing from Syria starting Tuesday, the day which marks 5 years since the start of Syria's bloody civil war. Putin's pledge is a move to help advance U.N.-brokered peace talks that resumed today.

“The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process,” said the Russian leader.

Half a million people have died in the conflict, and 5 million more are displaced, creating “the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

Russian military official Sergei Kuralenko is pictured on screen during a video link with foreign military attaches at a news briefing, organized by Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2016.

Russian military official Sergei Kuralenko is pictured on screen during a video link with foreign military attaches at a news briefing, organized by Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2016.

From the New York Times:

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.