In Surprise Visit to Syria, Putin Announces Russia Pulling Troops From War-torn Country

Arriving unexpectedly in Latakia, Putin says the Russian military will leave after two years of involvement in the Syrian conflict, but will retain a naval facility and an air base

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, left, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watch the troops marching at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Putin’s Syria Victory Lap Teaches Middle Eastern Leaders One Important Lesson

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday that Russia will pull its forces from Syria after he arrived in Latakia, Syria's main port city, on an unexpected visit. 

The Russian president said that despite the decision to withdraw "a significant portion of the Russian contingent," if "terrorists raise their heads" in Syria Russia will hit them with powerful strikes. 

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Putin also noted that Russia was going to retain its air base and naval facility in Syria.

In this Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 photo a Russian soldier guards as a military helicopter flies over Palmyra, Syria.
AP Photo

Putin told Syrian President Bashar Assad he hopes the work of the Syrian congress can be launched, and that he will also discuss the issue with the presidents of Egypt and Turkey. 

His announcement Monday that he is removing troops is not the first of its kind. Putin made similar announcements in March 2016 and last January

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. The Russian military said its warplanes recently have operated at an "unprecedented" pace to support joint action by Kurdish-led forces and Russian special forces in eastern Syria, flying over 100 missions a day against the Islamic State group. (Vadim Savitsky/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP)
Vadim Savitsky/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service pool photo via AP

Putin met with Assad in the Syrian president's Alawite heartland, before taking off for Egypt, Russian media said. According to Tass news agency, Putin met with Assad in the Khmeimim air base in Latakia, not far from the Syrian border with Israel and Lebanon, before heading off to Egypt, where he landed Monday afternoon. 

In Egypt, Putin is going to hold talks with in Cairo with counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. The latter has visited Russia three times since the ouster of his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi in 2013. After taking office, Sissi has bought billions of dollars' worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters.

The two countries are also in the late stages of negotiations over the construction by a Russian company of Egypt's first nuclear energy reactor.

Russia’s military said last Thursday it had accomplished its mission of defeating Islamic State in Syria, and there were no remaining settlements there under the group’s control.

Russia has been supporting the Assad regime in Syria since the Syrian civil war first erupted in 2011, providing political and military aid over the past six years.

In 2015, Moscow began its direct military involvement in Damascus.