President Vladimir Putin has ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, where Russia has been bombing insurgent groups and supporting the Syrian government for the past five months, Russian state media reported.
In a surprise move, Putin said Monday the removal of the “main part” of Russian military in Syria will begin Tuesday.
“I think that the task given to the ministry of defense has been mainly accomplished,” the Russian president said at a meeting with Russia’s defense and foreign-affairs ministers.
The decision comes as the various factions involved in Syria’s civil war began United Nations-mediated peace talks in Switzerland Monday. Russian state media said Putin’s decision was made in agreement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow.
Last October, Russia announced an air campaign against targets in Syria it described as terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Its involvement marked the country’s first military operation outside Europe since the 1980s, when it invaded Afghanistan.
Two days before the first airstrikes, Putin gave a speech at the annual United Nations General Assembly that hinted at Russia’s forthcoming intervention in Syria.