Russia is keeping the option of re-engaging open but the withdrawal does encompass its fighting element. Russians now plan to monitor the ceasefire rather than fight outright
The Kremlin has just published a shock announcement that Putin has ordered the withdrawal of most of the Russian strike force from Syria.
The withdrawal is apparently slated to begin on Tuesday 15th March 2016.
The reason Putin has given for the decision is that with the announcement of the truce and with the Syrian army reorganised and able to conduct offensive operations on its own, the presence of the Russian strike force is no longer needed.
It is clear that there will not be a total withdrawal. Khmeimim air base will not be entirely abandoned and the Russians will keep a presence in Syria sufficient to monitor the truce. However that will most be done using aerial drones.
It is also clear that the Russians stand ready to return to Syria if the need arises.
No-one predicted this announcement, which makes a total nonsense of Western claims that Russia has become bogged down in a quagmire in Syria. As for the claim that Putin is deliberately bombing Syrians in order to flood Europe with refugees so as to destabilise Merkel, that claim is now exposed as the utter absurdity that it is.
That will not however prevent Western commentators from finding some way to twist this announcement to suit their “Putin is Evil” narrative. We look forward to seeing over the next few days the Western media and Western governments engaging in more contortions of logic as they try to explain this announcement.
Meanwhile the latest information says that the newly reinvigorated Syrian army - strengthened by Russian arms supplies and training and reinforced with fresh troops from Iran - is pressing ahead with its offensives against Aleppo, Palmyra, Idlib and Raqqa.
The Russian intervention totally changed the dynamic of the war. As Putin proudly said in his announcement, it is rare for such a small force to make such a decisive difference in a conflict in such a short time.
Russian efforts will now - at least for the moment - focus more on diplomatic than military action, leaving such fighting as needs to be done to the Syrians.
First published by the official Russian news agency TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an order to begin withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria starting from March 15.
"I think that the tasks set to the defense ministry are generally fulfilled. That is why I order to begin withdrawal of most of our military group from Syria starting from tomorrow," Putin said on Monday at a meeting with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
In Putin's words, during their operation in Syria, Russian military have demonstrated professionalism and teamwork, having performed all the set tasks.
"Besides, our military, soldiers and officers demonstrated professionalism, teamwork and ability to organize combat work far away from their territory, having no common borders with the theater of war," he said.
Russian bases in Syria’s Tartus and Khmeimim are to continue operating in routine regime, the president went on to say.
"Our bases — the naval base in Tartus and the airbase at the Khmeimim airfield — will operate in a routine mode. They are to be safely protected from the land, from the sea and from air," he told the defense and foreign ministers.
Those Russian servicemen who will stay in Syria will be engaged in monitoring the ceasefire regime, Putin added.
The Russian president said he hopes the start of the withdrawal of Russian troops will become a good motivation for launching negotiations between political forces of that country and instructed the foreign minister to intensify Russia’s participation in organization of peace process in Syria.
"I hope today’s decision will be a good signal for all conflicting parties. I hope it will sizably increase trust of all participants in the process," the president said. "I ask the Russian Foreign Ministry to intensify Russia’s participation in organizing the peace process to solve the Syrian problem," he added.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin has discussed and coordinated the decision on the beginning of withdrawal of Russia's forces from Syria with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad.
"Everything voiced at the meeting [of Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu] was told our Syrian colleagues and coordinated with president [Bashar] Assad," Peskov said.
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