Putin orders withdrawal of "main part" of Russian troops from Syria
Announced a few hours after the start of the new phase of peace negotiations. From anti-terrorist emergency to political and diplomatic dialogue. Russia will keep a presence in the Hmeimim (Lattakia) air base and Tartous naval base. Pressure on Assad for more concessions in negotiations.
Damascus (AsiaNews) - Russia this morning began withdrawing its military from Syria, after President Vladimir Putin last night announced he would withdraw "the main part" of his troops from the Middle Eastern country.
Following a meeting with the ministers of defense and of foreign affairs, Putin said that Russian forces have achieved their goals and now the focus was on diplomatic efforts.
The Russian decision was communicated by Putin with a phone call to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
It comes just hours after the resumption of the dialogue for peace in Geneva between the government in Damascus and the opposition forces, excluding the Nusra Front and the Islamic State.
"The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process," Putin said.
The news took many by surprise: Russia has been present in Syria since September 30 last and thanks to its officers, and air strikes many of Assad's opponents and terrorist bases were destroyed. Added to this the Russian presence boosted the Syrian army positions. But in a sense the work is not yet completed given to the massive presence of fundamentalist militias, the "terrorists" that Putin had set out to defeat.
In fact the withdrawal will not be a complete one. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Moscow army will continue to run air base Hmeimim (near Lattakia) and Russian ships will keep a presence in the port of Tartous, as well as some military contingents. He did not specify how many troops will remain, nor how many planes, nor the timing of the withdrawal.
Analysts are pondering the reasons for the decision. Considerations conclude above all the economic reason: the campaign in Syria - with more than 9 thousand air raids - has come at a very high price for a country tried by the lowering of oil prices and international sanctions.
Then there is a political reason: on the eve of the peace talks, Putin’s gesture shows his desire to collaborate with the other powers, calming relations and perhaps preparing a joint plan to fight the Islamic State.
Finally, the move seems to step up pressure on Assad, to make him more open to concessions. The peace talks so far have always foundered on the prospects of the future of Assad, who wants to remain in charge of the country. Last week, the deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, asked the Syrian leader and his opponents to show their "real will" to form a new constitution for Syria, to build a "future democratic society."