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Efforts to end Syria war gather pace, five years on

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his defence minister to begin pulling out “the main part” of Russian troops in Syria.

The announcement came just hours after peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition got under way in the Swiss city of Geneva on Monday.

“The task presented to the defence ministry and the armed forces has been completely fulfilled,” Putin told Sergey Shoigu, according to the state news agency TASS.

“Thus, I order the defence minister to begin withdrawing the main part of our troops from the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Putin said he hoped the withdrawal of Russian troops from Tuesday will be a stimulus for a political resolution of the conflict.

“I hope today’s decision will be a good signal for all conflicting parties. I hope it will sizeably increase trust of all participants in the process,” he said.

“I ask the Russian foreign ministry to intensify Russia’s participation in organising the peace process to solve the Syrian problem.”

Shoigu said Russian forces have killed more than 2,000 rebel fighters, including 17 rebel leaders, since the start of the operation.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, said Putin discussed and coordinated the decision with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

“Everything voiced at the meeting [of Putin, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and Shoigu] was conveyed to our Syrian colleagues and coordinated with President Assad,” Peskov said.

However, Russia’s bases in Syria’s Tartous and Khmeimim would continue their normal operations, Putin said.

“Our bases – the naval base in Tartous and the airbase at the Khmeimim airfield – will operate in a routine mode. They are to be safely protected from the land, from the sea and from air,” he said.

Those Russian soldiers who will stay in Syria will be engaged in monitoring the ceasefire regime, Putin said.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russia defence analyst, says Russia is seeking a compromise with the West.

“This is Russia’s air force that is in action,” he told Al Jazeera from Bucharest, Romania.

“This doesn’t mean that Russia is withdrawing from Syria or abandoning the Assad regime.

“But it does mean Russia is seeking a compromise. … Russia is absolutely not ready to take on the West over Syria.”

Earlier on Monday, after talks resumed in Geneva to end the conflict, Syria’s top government negotiator described as “positive and constructive” his meeting with Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said his government was interested in a dialogue that is “Syrian-led without foreign intervention and precondition”.

For his part, Salim al-Muslet, of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said his side was also “optimistic” but insisted on a “political transition” in Syria “without Assad.”

“I believe that there are positive points that we can count on,” he told Al Jazeera from Geneva.

“We are keen to find a solution that would end the suffering of the Syrians. For Assad to be in power is not acceptable.”

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced almost half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

A fragile ceasefire has largely held since February 27, and humanitarian aid deliveries have resumed in recent weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera