Russia to withdraw its troops from Syria
Russia, a key player in the Syrian conflict has begun the partial withdrawal of its troops from the country. President Vladimir Putin reportedly ordered the withdrawal during a recent unannounced visit to Syria. Russian support to the Syrian government has been crucial in turning around the course of Syrian civil war in Bashar-al-Assad's favor. Here's a look at Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict
Russia launched airstrikes in Syria in December 2015, aiming to "stabilize" Assad's government which had faced a string of losses until then. These airstrikes were particularly crucial in enabling the Syrian government to re-take rebel strongholds such as the city of Aleppo. While Russia maintains that it has only targeted terrorists, thousands of civilians, including children have reportedly lost their lives during the campaign.
Putin announces troop withdrawal from Syria
Russia's Novosti news agency quoted Putin as stating: "I order ..... to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases." "A significant part of the Russian contingent in Syria is returning home," he added. He also warned that if "terrorists raise their heads again," Russia would "carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen."
Will Russia actually withdraw its troops?
Putin had made a similar announcement on withdrawing troops from Syria last year. However, military operations continued. On being questioned on how long it would take for Russia to withdraw its troops, defense minister Sergei Shoigu provided an ambiguous reply stating that withdrawal would be dependent upon "the situation in Syria." This can be taken to mean that Russia might still re-consider its decision.
After troop withdrawal, Russia plans on being involved in peace-building in Syria. In a recent meeting, Putin reportedly conveyed to Assad that Kremlin wants to work with Iran and Turkey to bring peace to the war-torn country.