Russian warplanes and troops stationed at Russia's air base in Syria started leaving for home on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, after a partial pullout order from President Vladimir Putin the previous day, a step that raises hopes for progress at the newly reconvened U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria called Putin's announcement a "significant development." Staffan de Mistura said in a statement that his team hoped the Russian drawdown would have a "positive impact" on the negotiations aimed at finding a political solution to Syria's war and "a peaceful political transition in the country."
Putin announced the withdrawal of most of the Russian forces from Syria on Monday, just hours after de Mistura had reconvened indirect peace talks between representatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and those of the so-called moderate opposition. After meeting with a government delegation on Monday, the U.N. envoy was to meet with opposition representatives on Tuesday.
Russia's Defense Ministry said a group of Su-34 bombers was the first to depart on Tuesday, accompanied by a military transport aircraft. The planes would be making stops at airfields in Russia for refueling and technical checks since some of them are stationed more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) away from the Syria base, the ministry said.
Putin didn't specify how many aircraft and troops would be withdrawn. Russia has not revealed how many soldiers it has deployed to Syria, where it maintains a naval facility as well as an air base, but U.S. estimates of the number of Russian military personnel vary from 3,000 to 6,000.
Russia has deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its Hemeimeem air base, in Syria's coastal province of Latakia. (AP)