Russia to withdraw forces from Syria

Russia to withdraw forces from Syria
© Getty Images

Russia will begin withdrawing its forces from Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday.

“I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled,” Putin said at a meeting with his defense and foreign ministers. "I am therefore ordering the defense minister, from tomorrow, to start the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingent from the Syrian Arab Republic."

Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria in September. At the time, the Kremlin said it was doing so to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).


But U.S. officials say Russia’s actions mainly propped up Syrian President Bashar Assad, and most of its strikes have targeted rebels and civilians.

In recent weeks, Russian strikes have been credited with allowing regime forces to advance on rebel-held Aleppo. The United States also blamed the strikes for derailing peace talks.

Putin’s announcement comes the same day the United Nations-led peace talks resumed in Geneva.

Russia will maintain an air base and naval base in Syria, Putin said. He did not give a timeline for a complete withdrawal from the country.

Putin informed Assad of the withdrawal by phone, and the two agreed Russia’s military intervention “brought about a real turnabout in the fight against the terrorists in Syria, throwing their infrastructure into disarray and causing them substantial damage,” according to a Kremlin statement.

The Syrian regime often refers to rebel groups as terrorists.

Since Russia’s air campaign in Syria began, critics of President Obama have slammed the administration for allowing Putin to intervene and help Assad gain ground.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration’s lack of response allowed Russia to swing the conflict in the regime’s favor.

“The announcement that Russia will begin withdrawing some military forces from Syria signals Vladimir Putin’s belief that he has bombed and killed enough of the opponents of the murderous Assad regime to ensure its survival,” McCain said in a written statement.

“The administration rationalized its indifference and inaction by saying that Russia would find itself in a quagmire,” he added. “The administration consoled itself with the mantra of ‘there is no military solution,’ rather than facing the reality that there is a clear military dimension to any political solution in Syria. 

“Unfortunately, that is what Russia and its proxies have demonstrated in Syria. They have changed the military facts on the ground and created the terms for a political settlement more favorable to their interests.”