WASHINGTON (Sputnik), Leandra Bernstein — On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to start withdrawing the Russian airgroup from Syria on Tuesday as it completed the assigned tasks. The withdrawal occurred on the same day as proximity talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a number of Syrian opposition groups began in Geneva.
"This [move of Russia] suggests that the Russian government is trying to put pressure on the Syrian regime to commit to negotiations and eventually, a political settlement to the conflict," Ribal Assad said on Monday.
According to Ribal Assad, who is a political opponent of his first cousin Bashar Assad, the withdrawal was a demonstration that Russia did not intend to bolster the Syrian government, but showed "its willingness to act as a responsible global power in solving global problems both militarily and diplomatically."
Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces, fighting numerous opposition factions and radical Islamists. Moscow has been conducting an aerial campaign against terrorist groups in Syria since September 30, 2015, at Damascus' request.
The Swiss city of Geneva currently hosts the UN-backed proximity talks between the Syrian opposition and the government's delegation to put an end to the deadly conflict.
Islamist Forces Remain, Despite Russian Withdrawal From Syria
Russia's decision to withdraw its air forces from Syria does not mean the Islamist forces in the country have been defeated, al-Assad also said.
"In terms of weakening Islamic extremist groups in Syria, Russia has been quite successful in this regard, but Russia could certainly not claim that the mission has been accomplished as Islamist groups such as the Islamist State, al-Nusra and others have been weakened but far away from being defeated," Assad said on Monday.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he authorized the withdrawal of the country's air group from Syria beginning the following day. Putin said that Russia had accomplished its objectives in Syria, after a nearly seven month air campaign to combat terrorism.
Assad, a first cousin and political opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad, questioned the complex message of the Russian withdrawal shortly after a weekend proffer of joint US-Russian military action against the Islamic State forces in Raqqa and Palmyra.
"Russian jets had actually evacuated the Hmeimim airport" prior to the Monday withdrawal announcement, Assad said, citing his sources in Syria.
The Kremlin affirmed in a Monday statement that Russia would maintain some presence in Syria centered around the naval base at Tartus and the Hmeimim air base. Russia's representative to the United Nations noted the withdrawal as a shift to further the diplomatic and political transition in Syria.