Syrian opposition cautiously welcome Russian military withdrawal plans
HNC's spokesman Salem al-Meslet urged the Russian leader to also withdraw his support for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The vital step Russia needs to take is to stand by the side of the Syrian people instead of being on the side of the "criminal regime," Meslet told The New Arab.
"If this step, this action will remove all Russian troops from Syria then it will be a positive step, I believe," he said.
Meanwhile, armed Syrian opposition forces considered the partial Russian withdrawal from Syria as pressure on the Syrian regime.
Spokesman for the Levant Front, a coalition of northern Aleppo-based rebel factions, said that a Russian withdrawal will be a step closer to "victory."
"The withdrawal will come in favour of the Free Syrian Army and a step towards victory for the Syrian people," Colonel Mohammed al-Ahmed told The New Arab.
"But it will be a huge disappointment for the Syrian regime, which was strengthened by the Russian forces and before that the Iranian forces," Ahmed said.
"This step will reflect positively on the opposition and will have a negative impact on the regime," he added.
Russian partial withdrawal
|10 key dates in Syria's war|
2011: Revolt and repression
- March 15: Unprecedented protests inspired by the Arab Spring erupt, demanding reform after 40 years of iron-fist rule by President Bashar al-Assad's family.
2012: All-out war
2013: Chemical attacks
2014: Rise of the extremists
2014: The fall of Homs
2015: Kobane liberated
2015: Al-Nusra spreads
2015: Russia intervenes
The Russian president ordered his military to withdraw most of its forces from Syria, timing his move with the launch of Syrian peace talks Monday — an end game that allows the Russian leader to cash in on his gains and reduce his risks in the conflict.
The start of the negotiations in Geneva offers Putin an opportune moment to declare an official end to the five-and-a-half month Russian air campaign that has allowed Assad's army to win back some key ground and strengthen his positions ahead of the talks.
The pullback will allow Putin to pose as a peacemaker and help ease tensions with NATO member Turkey and the Gulf monarchies vexed by Moscow's military action.
At the same time, Putin made it clear that Russia will maintain its air base and a naval facility in Syria and keep some troops there.
Syria's state news agency quoted the Syrian president as saying that the Russian military will draw down its air force contingent but will not leave the country altogether.
Announcing his decision in a televised meeting with Russia's foreign and defense ministries, Putin said the Russian air campaign has allowed Assad's military to "radically" turn the tide of war and helped create conditions for peace talks.
"With the tasks set before the defence ministry and the military largely fulfilled, I'm ordering the defense minister to start the pullout of the main part of our group of forces from Syria, beginning tomorrow," Putin said on Monday.
He did not specify how many planes and troops should be withdrawn.
Russia has deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its Hemeimeem air base, in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, and they have operated at a frenetic pace, each flying several combat sorties on an average day.
But the number of Russian soldiers in Syria has not been revealed.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that thanks to the Russian air support the Syrian military has extended its control to 400 towns and villages over an area of 10,000 square kilometres.
State TV quoted the Syrian president as saying that the collaboration between Russian and Syrian forces has secured "victories against terrorism and returned security to the country."
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who restarted peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva on Monday is yet to comment on Putin's move.
Earlier on Monday, de Mistura warned that the only alternative to the negotiations is a return to war, and described political transition in the country as "the mother of all issues."
Putin's announcement, however, appears to indicate that Moscow will largely halt its military action for now.
Since Syria's civil war started five years ago, at least a quarter of a million people have been killed and half of the country's population has been displaced.
Agencies contributed to this report.