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Putin Orders Partial Troop Withdrawal From Syria

15 December 2017

On a surprise visit to Syria on Monday, Putin ordered the start of a pullout of Russian troops, saying their task in the war-torn country had been largely completed.

The commander of Russian troops in Syria, Sergei Surovikin, said 23 planes and two helicopters as well as special forces and medical units will return home in the near future.

As he arrived at the base, which houses Russian forces assisting Syria in the battle against Islamic State terrorists (IS, formerly ISIS), the Russian president was greeted by his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, and by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, in a brief stop on his (President Putin's) way to bilateral talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, followed by a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.

Though polls show he will easily win, they also show that some Russians are increasingly apathetic about politics, and Mr. Putin's supporters are keen to get him re-elected on a big turnout, which in their eyes confers legitimacy.

Putin Orders Partial Troop Withdrawal From Syria
Putin Orders Partial Troop Withdrawal From Syria

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.

In a televised speech to the Russian troops at the base, Putin hailed their valor.

The Hemeimeem base, located in the heartland of Assad's Alawite minority, has served as the main foothold for the Russian military campaign in Syria. "The Motherland is proud of you".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it was not his place to comment on Trump's actions, but added: "In any case, everything which is published from his authorised Twitter account is perceived by Moscow as his official statement".

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"Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you", Putin said.

Putin, who has dominated Russia's political landscape for the last 17 years with the help of state television, told Russian servicemen they would return home as victors.

Putin said both Russia's airbase Hmeimim and naval facility in Tartus would continue to function.

Putin reportedly issued a similar directive a year ago, although the Kremlin's operations in Syria continued.

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Syrian TV said Assad thanked Putin for his troops' "effective contribution" to the fight against terrorism in Syria, which he said the Syrian people "will never forget".

Where once Presidents Obama and Trump once issued demands that the Assad regime would have no place in a post-conflict Syrian state over its use of chemical weapons - allegations Russian Federation has adamantly argued are false - the White House has acquiesced to Moscow's demands that Assad stay for now.

"Syria has been saved as a sovereign, independent state, refugees are coming home and conditions have been created for a political settlement under the United Nations' auspices", Mr Putin said.

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Putin Orders Partial Troop Withdrawal From Syria