News / Middle East

    Kerry to Meet with Putin on Moscow's Troop Withdrawal from Syria

    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia Dec. 15, 2015.
    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia Dec. 15, 2015.
    Ken Bredemeier

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he will head to Moscow next week to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin about his troop withdrawal from Syria and the prospects for peace in the war-wracked country.

    "We have reached a very important phase in this process," Kerry said in announcing the trip. "This is a moment to seize not waste. We have at this moment the ability to finally take steps toward ending war and bloodshed."

    Kerry said he would talk with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about "how we can move the political process forward."

    But the top U.S. diplomat warned that "lasting peace will be impossible without a genuine political transition" away from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has resisted any notion of stepping down.

    News of Kerry's Moscow trip came as Syrian peace talks continued for a second day in Geneva and the first Russian military personnel returned from Syria to cheering crowds waiting to greet them.

    A video grab made on March 15, 2016, shows an image taken from a footage made available on the Russian Defence Ministry's official website on March 15, 2016, reportedly showing Russian Su-34 bombers and a Tupolev Tu-154 transport plane (L) flying above an unknown location on their way from the Hmeimim airbase in Syria to their permanent bases in the Russian Federation.
    A video grab made on March 15, 2016, shows an image taken from a footage made available on the Russian Defence Ministry's official website on March 15, 2016, reportedly showing Russian Su-34 bombers and a Tupolev Tu-154 transport plane (L) flying above an unknown location on their way from the Hmeimim airbase in Syria to their permanent bases in the Russian Federation.

    Russian television showed three Su-34 fighter planes landing at an air base in the southern part of the country, with pilots in white helmets and aviator jackets mobbed by supporters on their arrival and thrown into the air in celebration.  Amid waving Russian flags and red, white and blue balloons, a brass band played the Stalin-era "March of the Aviators" and the Russian national anthem.

    At the peace talks in Geneva, the main Syrian opposition cautiously greeted Putin's troop withdrawal after five and a half months of operations in Syria, saying it could lead to an end to five years' of fighting and Assad's "dictatorship and his crimes."

    The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called Putin's announcement a "significant development" and said he hopes it will lead to "a peaceful political transition in the country."

    France also expressed cautious optimism, with its foreign ministry saying that if the Russian troop reduction is "followed up by concrete action, it would be a positive development."

    Some military personnel to stay

    A handout picture taken on March 15, 2016 and released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows a Russia's air force pilot, who returned from the Hmeimim military base in Syria's Latakia province.
    A handout picture taken on March 15, 2016 and released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows a Russia's air force pilot, who returned from the Hmeimim military base in Syria's Latakia province.

    Despite the initial withdrawal, Russia plans to keep about 1,000 military personnel at air and naval bases in Syria.  The United States has estimated that Moscow has had between 3,000 and 6,000 troops in Syria.

    In Syria, deputy defense minister Nikolai Pankov told Russian news agencies, "It is still too early to speak of victory over terrorism.  The Russian air group has a task of continuing to strike terrorist targets."

    Putin said Monday the "bulk" of his military contingent in Syria would leave now that they have largely fulfilled their tasks there, supporting Assad's forces in fighting against rebel groups trying to overthrow his government.

    White House reaction

    The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama called Putin Monday to discuss Russia's announcement of a withdrawal, and to talk about how to advance the political negotiations for Syria.

    In Damascus, the office of Syria's presidency said Assad agreed to Russia's decision, but added that Russia had promised its air force contingent that arrived in late September will not leave the country altogether.

    The Kremlin's website quoted Putin as saying Russia would maintain a "post" for supporting flights of aircraft involved in monitoring compliance with the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

    FILE - Russian warplanes fly over the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Jan. 28, 2016.
    FILE - Russian warplanes fly over the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Jan. 28, 2016.

    Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said Monday Russia is making this move to withdraw its forces from Syria because "we are in the political mode now, in the cessation of hostilities mode."  He said, "Our diplomacy has received marching orders to intensify our efforts to achieve [a] political settlement in Syria." 

    He said, "Our forces have operated very effectively. Our military presence will continue to be there; it will be directed mostly at making sure the cease-fire, cessation of hostilities is maintained."  

    VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    March 16, 2016 2:30 AM
    Putin's military campaign in Syria is a success in Syria. Putin totally destroyed the very concept of western backed regime change in middle east. Main purpose of Russian military intervention in Syria was to stop terrorists from taking over Syria and create necessary situation on the ground to bring about a diplomatic solution to the crisis. by doing so, Russian military intervention has totally destroyed American policy of forced regime change in the world.

    Russia has also proved a point beyond any doubts that Russia can never be isolated from anything. Obama described Russia as a weak regional player. But, now Russia has become the main player in middle east sidelining US. Putin clearly knows what to do and what not to do. But, American leaders have no idea about what they are doing. American leaders are no match for Putin.

    by: Igor from: Russia
    March 15, 2016 9:32 PM
    Putin is a clever president, who is quite different from those foolish american presidents who burnt billions of US citizens' dollars on wars in Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Campbodia and then Afganistan, Lybia, Iraq, Syria...and so on to make the world much more worse. He knows when to start and when to quit.
    If Putin was the president of the USA, I think 90% americans would support him.
    In Response

    by: Thomson from: Germany
    March 16, 2016 3:07 PM
    If you look at murder of his political opponents, you could refer him as notorious dictator also. How about classifying the killing of unspecified Russian soldiers illegally fighting in East Ukraine?

    by: Carlos Gomez from: Dom Rep
    March 15, 2016 3:36 PM
    This means that Putin will retain the Crimea in return of this partial withdrawal.

    by: Solaris
    March 15, 2016 12:48 PM
    Not only Obama and terrorists lost the war against the Russian Federation and its ally Assad but also they couldn't change the US society structure so that a terrorist friendly president get elected in November. From early days of the war the others and I warned that the era in which a few Arab sheiks dictate world politics through the US has come to an end forever.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 15, 2016 5:34 AM
    The job is not done yet. IS and al Nusra are down but not out? Why is Russia abandoning Assad? Is the cost to their economy too great? Was the attack that killed a lot of Russian generals a wake up call that they could not protect themselves? Are they hoping the sanctions will end as "the west" forgets about Ukraine? What is the real story? Why did this decision suddenly come about. My hunch is that there is more to this story than we know so far.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    March 16, 2016 1:53 AM
    Main Russia's objective is to pop Assad up and is MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Russia still has air bases and naval bases there will return as needed.
    Why would Russia take ISIS down? It is a creation of USA and is best left as 'un-done'. Even as it is, USA is claiming credit for the peace deal and blames Russia for the refugees, deaths and destructions. Let USA clean up the ISIS mess and then proclaim another 'mission accomplished'.

    Russia is not silly to have another Afghanistan straining her already poor economy, West sanction does not help and the drop of oil price hurts further.
    Marcus, USA is a rich county and can afford wars all over the world by simply printing more of those IN GOD WE TRUST green notes out of thin air and by borrowing.

    For your info, Russia does not care less what does the West think about Ukraine, it is Russia core national interest to stop NATO inching closer to her border. Where is the fact 'a lot of' Russian general killed in Syria? You seem to be very patriotic and it is admirable, bashing Russia and China every chance you have.
    In Response

    by: alowl
    March 15, 2016 12:39 PM
    I think it's part politics, part cost. The Ruskies have put their boy in a better negotiating position, and by the time they return, oil will be selling for > $50/bbl. They could push things along by bombing (accidently) something in Turkey on their way back to Mother Russia
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 15, 2016 7:37 AM
    The Syrian war is over? .. The US has agreed to the terms and conditions of the Russian ceasefire and peace plan? .. Only the specifics have to be worked out? .. The terrorists/rebels will accept the terms and conditions also, or they'll have to fight the Syrian government and their allies by themselves without US weapons and support?

    Since there are only sporadic terrorist/rebel attacks, the Russians are withdrawing their unneeded warplanes and troops, but they can return in a few days if needed? .. Europe told the US to end their war against Assad and Syria, because whatever goals they were trying to achieve can't be accomplished now? .. and the next US president won't get bogged down supporting the terrorist/rebels no matter who supports them?

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