Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the defence ministry to begin the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria from Tuesday.
"The task that was set before our defence ministry and armed forces has as a whole been completed and so I order the defence ministry to from tomorrow start the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingents from the Syrian Arab Republic," Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in televised comments.
The Kremlin announced that Putin had called President Bashar al-Assad to inform Moscow`s long-standing ally of the surprise move that appears to end the main part of its intervention in Syria`s conflict that began in September.
"The leaders noted that the actions of the Russian airforce allowed to radically change the situation in the fight against terrorism, to disorganise the fighters` infrastructure and inflict significant damage on them," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"Taking that into account, the President of Russia stated that the main tasks set before the armed forces of Russia in Syria had been completed. It was agreed to carry out the withdrawal of the main part of Russia`s airforce contingent," the statement said.
The two leaders, however, also agreed that Moscow would maintain an airforce facility in Syria to help monitor the progress of a ceasefire in the war-torn country.
"Assad noted the professionalism, courage and heroism of the officers of the Russian armed forces that took part in the military operations and expressed deep appreciation to Russia," the Kremlin statement said.
"The Syrian leader underlined his readiness for the quickest establishment of the political process in Syria." Russia began its bombing campaign in support of Assad`s forces in September, a move that helped shore up the Syrian regime`s crumbling forces and go on the offensive.
A temporary ceasefire in the country introduced on February 27 has largely held, despite accusations of violations from both sides, allowing aid to reach some 150,000 people living under siege.
A fresh round of talks to end Syria`s civil war opened in Geneva on Monday, but hopes for a breakthrough remained remote with the sides locked in a bitter dispute over the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
Putin said he hoped the withdrawal decision would provide a "good signal" for all the warring sides in the conflict.
"I hope this will significantly increase the level of trust of all the participants in the political process in Syria," Putin said at the televised meeting that was also attended by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Moscow`s Hmeimim air base in Syria as well as its Tartus naval facility would remain functioning and that some military contingents would stay behind.
He did not however give any details on how many soldiers would stay in Syria and what the timeframe for withdrawal was.
The UN-hosted negotiations in Geneva, which began a day before the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, are the latest effort to end violence that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.
Hopes for a breakthrough remained remote with the sides locked in a bitter dispute over the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
Peskov said that Putin had not discussed Assad`s fate with the Syrian strongman in their phone conversation.