Monday

18th Feb 2019

Russia announces surprise withdrawal from Syria

  • Russia announces withdrawal from Syria where the civil war has been raging for five years (Photo: gov.uk)

Russian forces are preparing to leave Syria five and a half months after they began to bomb targets in what they called an anti-terror operation, but what Western governments condemned as a mission to help prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

Western officials cautiously welcomed the move by the Kremlin, which came after a telephone conversation between President Vladimir Putin and Assad on Monday (14 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"The leaders noted that the actions of the Russian air force had allowed them 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.

Russia’s bombing campaign started on 30 September last year. It helped Assad's troops to recapture territory from rebels.

Russian aircraft flew more than 9,000 sorties, with media reports claiming their attacks caused civilian casualties and often targeted rebel-held areas despite the stated aim of anti-terrorism.

Deadlock on Assad

No details were given on how many planes and troops would be withdrawn or the deadline for completing the withdrawal.

It is also not clear how many troops Russia has in the Middle Eastern country, US estimates put the number of personnel between 3,000 and 6,000.

Russia however will continue to operate its air base in Latakia province in Syria, and its naval base at Tartus.

Meanwhile peace talks continue in Geneva, but hopes of a breakthrough are thin as all sides are in a deadlock over the future of Assad.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Russia’s withdrawal would increase pressure on Assad to negotiate.

Sanctions issue unresolved

Meanwhile on Monday EU foreign ministers discussed relations with Russia for the first time in a year.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said they had unanimity among the 28 on five broad principles.

These include Moscow fully respecting and implementing the Minsk ceasefire accords in Ukraine.

They reiterated that the EU would not recognise Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, which the union regards as illegal.

The ministers also agreed to boost ties with nations in the former Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and strengthen resilience in areas like energy security.

EU countries should engage with Russia on foreign policy issues only where there is a clear EU interest, the ministers said, and the bloc promised to boost contacts with Russian civil society.

Although there is agreement on these wide principles, there is reportedly no consensus over whether to renew economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

Hungary and Greece have both said they want to remove the sanctions, which expire at the end of July.

They say the measures have failed to change Russian policy and are damaging European economies.

Russia 'weaponising' refugees against EU

Russia is “weaponising migration” as part of a broader campaign to extend its influence in Europe, Nato’s military chief has said, echoing German and Turkish concern.

Interview

Syrian 'love story' hopes to prompt EU compassion

An award-winning film about a Syrian family’s experience of the war could make Europeans more compassionate toward refugees, its main protagonist and its director tell EUobserver

US military plans for Europe prompt Russian warning

The US has unveiled fresh details of its plan to create a Russia-deterrent force in eastern Europe, prompting Russia to warn of an “asymmetric response” and of a potential "crisis".

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us