UN Security Council praises Russia's Syria pullout

March 15, 2016 | 04:30 am PT
The UN Security Council views Russia's decision to begin withdrawing from Syria as a positive step, the body's president said on Monday.

The council discussed the surprise Russian announcement during a closed-door meeting, when it also heard a report from UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on a new round of peace talks that opened in Geneva.

"The decision just announced today by the Russian president - that's a positive step," said Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, who holds the council's rotating presidency this month.

"That's what we like to see."

President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will begin withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Syria starting on Tuesday.

The Kremlin leader said his forces had achieved their military goals and expressed hope that peace talks will yield a settlement to end the five-year war.

Gaspar Martins said council ambassadors understood that the withdrawal would take place "gradually but surely" and that air strikes would be reduced in intensity as the forces pull out.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said following the meeting that "finally" all the components of Syria's peace process were in place, including a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid deliveries and negotiations.

He added that some council members understood that the Russian decision to begin withdrawing "shows our deep commitment to the political process" to end Syria's war.

"I think this is a proper interpretation of this decision," Churkin said in comments released by the Russian mission to the United Nations.

Russia launched the air strikes in September saying it wanted to root out the Islamic State group that controls part of Syria, but the military campaign mostly propped up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Although Russia has gained the upper hand in Syria with its military intervention, diplomats say it remains unclear whether the Kremlin can impose a settlement on Assad.

In his report to council members, De Mistura stressed that the ceasefire was fragile, saying the 17-day truce must be protected.

Too many "incidents" threaten to erode the cessation of hostilities, the envoy said.

The UN-hosted negotiations in Geneva, which began on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the conflict's outbreak, are the latest effort to end violence that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

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