Obama, Putin discuss Russian withdrawal from Syria

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President Obama on Monday spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s surprise announcement of a “partial withdrawal” of forces from Syria. 

“They discussed President Putin’s announcement today … and next steps required to fully implement the cessation of hostilities,” the White House said in a statement.

The Russian leader said he would begin pulling his military out of Syria, saying his country’s objectives have been achieved. 

Moscow started carrying out airstrikes in the war-torn Middle Eastern nation last September. Putin said the strikes were meant to target Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces but U.S. officials have long said Putin’s true goal was to prop up his ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

Assad’s forces have been engaged in a five-year long civil war against rebel groups. The announcement came on the same day United Nations-led peace talks were set to resume in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The negotiations have been bolstered by a fragile ceasefire between Russia, Assad and opposition groups.

Obama “welcomed the much-needed reduction in violence since the beginning of the cessation, but stressed that continuing offensive actions by Syrian regime forces risk undermining” the ceasefire and peace talks. 

Questions are also swirling around whether Putin will fully pull out of Syria. The president announced Russia will keep an air base there and did not offer a specific timeline for a complete withdrawal.