WASHINGTON — In a surprise move that he said he hoped would bolster Syria peace talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would start to withdraw most Russian military forces from Syria starting March 15. The decision to partly withdraw from Syria, which Putin said he discussed during a phone call with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad March 14, is likely to put pressure on the Assad regime to negotiate more seriously at UN-hosted peace talks with the opposition, which resumed in Geneva on March 14. The decision follows remarks from Syria’s foreign minister over the weekend that any talk of Assad’s future was a “red line” at the Geneva talks.
“I hope today’s decision will be a good signal for all conflicting parties” at the Geneva talks, Putin said following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on March 14, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported. “I hope it will sizably increase trust of all participants in the process.”