Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced he would begin pulling his troops out of Syria. Putin, speaking during a meeting at the Kremlin on the same day United Nations-led peace talks resumed, said “the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled,” reported Reuters. Putin informed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the decision, but did not discuss Assad’s future, according to Reuters. Russia first deployed troops and aircraft to Syria five months ago, and has supported regime forces in reclaiming territory against rebels. While most forces will leave, a Russian military presence will remain at the port of Tartous and the Hmeymim air base, southeast of Latakia. US officials have said Russian forces have largely not targeted ISIS fighters, their stated reason for deploying, and serving instead as a “distraction” in the fight against the terrorist group. In late February, Russia and the US agreed on a cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria to attempt to end the civil war.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.