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Putin Withdraws Most Forces From Syria, Saying Russia Has 'Achieved Its Goals'

Russia has dozens of aircraft in Syria, plus ships and other equipment. Putin called Syrian President Bashar al Assad to let him know he's beginning to pull out.
Deux avions de chasse russes Su-25 décollent de la base aérienne de Hmeynim, où les avions russes sont stationnés en Syrie, le 4 octobre 2015. Photo du service de presse du ministère de la Défense russe/EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military on Monday to begin withdrawing the majority of Russia's forces from Syria, saying that Russian military intervention had mostly achieved its goals.

Putin, at a meeting in the Kremlin with his defense and foreign ministers, said the order for withdrawal should become effective on Tuesday.

He also said that Russia would ramp up its role in the peace process to end the conflict in Syria. Putin called Syrian President Bashar al Assad to let him know that Russia was beginning a withdrawal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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According to an analysis published shortly after the Russian intervention in Syria began last September, the bulk of the Russian expeditionary force in Syria is made up of more than 30 fighter and bomber jets. One of 34 sent from Russia has been shot down by the Turkish Air Force for allegedly violating Turkish airspace.

"The task that was set before our defense ministry and armed forces has as a whole been completed and so I order the defense ministry to, from tomorrow, start the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingents from the Syrian Arab Republic," Putin said in televised comments on Monday.

"The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process," Putin said in a statement.

Putin added that Russian involvement had "profoundly reverse[d] the situation" in Assad's favor, and that the Syrian president recognized "the professionalism, courage and heroism" of the Russian military. "In a short period of time," Putin said, " Russian troops disorganized militants' infrastructure and inflicted fundamental damage upon them."

Putin added that Assad has thanked Russia for the military assistance, as well as for providing "humanitarian aid and assistance to Syria's civilian population."

The Kremlin plans to keep its air force base at Hmeynim in Latakia province, close to the Turkish border, and its naval base at Tartus.

Russian involvement in the five-year-long Syrian civil war has been consistently steeped in controversy due to Russia's hitting civilian areas in Syria.

According to a report published in January by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Russian airstrikes killed almost 4,000 civilians, over 300 of whom were children.

In December, Amnesty International released a report that said Russian airstrikes have indiscriminately killed hundreds of civilians and may constitute a war crime.

"The Russian armed forces appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military objective and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians," the report said. "In others, they seem to have attacked military objectives and civilian objects without distinction, or caused disproportionate harm to civilians when striking military targets. Such attacks may constitute war crimes."