Out of the blue, Russian President Vladimir Putin orders his military to start the withdrawal of the main part of Russia's forces from Syria. Rough Cut-subtitled (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT-SUBTITLED (NO REPORTER NARRATION) President Vladimir Putin announced out of the blue on Monday that "the main part" of Russian armed forces in Syria will start to withdraw, telling his diplomats to step up the push for peace as U.N.-mediated talks resumed on ending the five-year-old war. Syria rejected any suggestion of a rift with Moscow, saying President Bashar al-Assad had agreed on the "reduction" of Russian forces in a telephone call with Putin. Western diplomats speculated Putin may be trying to press Assad into accepting a political settlement to the war, which has killed 250,000 people, although U.S. officials saw no sign yet of Russian forces preparing to pull out. The anti-Assad opposition simply expressed bafflement, with a spokesman saying "nobody knows what is in Putin's mind". Russia's military intervention in Syria in September helped to turn the tide of war in Assad's favour after months of gains in western Syria by rebel fighters, who were aided by foreign military supplies including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles. Putin made his surprise announcement, made with no advance warning to the United States, at a meeting with his defence and foreign ministers. Russian forces had largely fulfilled their objectives in Syria, Putin said. But he gave no deadline for the completion of the withdrawal and said forces would remain at a seaport and airbase in Syria's Latakia province. In Geneva, United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura told the warring parties there was no "Plan B" other than a resumption of conflict if the first of three rounds of talks which aim to agree a "clear roadmap" for Syria failed to make progress. Putin said at the Kremlin meeting he was ordering the withdrawal from Tuesday of "the main part of our military contingent" from the country. "The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process," he said. "I believe that the task put before the defence ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled." With the participation of the Russian military, Syrian armed forces "have been able to achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism", he added.