President Vladimir Putin has considered a partial withdrawal of his troops from Syria, having made an official announcement to this effect on Monday during a surprise visit to a Russian military base in Latakia.
“I order the defence minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Putin said as he visited Khmeimim air base, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Image: Vladimir Putin
Putin, who was welcomed by Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad at the military base added, “I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia.”
The visit marks Putin’s first trip to Syria and comes as the regime forces have retaken control over most of Syria under the Russian air cover.
Russia first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favour while dramatically increasing Moscow’s own influence in the Middle East.
The air base has served as the main foothold for the air campaign since Russia has intervened Syrian civil war in support of the regime.
“The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part, been solved and solved spectacularly,” Putin said, in a nationwide broadcast.
“I congratulate you!” the Russian president told a gathering of servicemen at the base. He was also quoted as saying that Russia would keep the Khmeimim air base as well as a naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus “on a permanent basis.”
Putin also told Assad he wanted to work with Iran and Turkey to kick-start the Syrian peace process, Russian news agencies reported.
Image shows shirtless Putin riding a polar bear.
Putin was cited as telling Assad he hoped that it would be possible to launch the work of the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue and that he would discuss the matter in forthcoming meetings with the presidents of Egypt and Turkey.
Putin made the stopover at the base in Latakia province, a regime stronghold, on his way to Egypt where he arrived later Monday.
Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a “new stage” as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reform.
More than 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s rule that sparked a brutal crackdown.
Putin is expected to visit Ankara to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on Monday. The unrest in Jerusalem and Syrian peace process are high on the agenda.