"I think that the task that was assigned to the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces as a whole has achieved its goal, and so I order the defense minister to start tomorrow withdrawing the main part of our military factions from the Syrian Arab Republic," President Putin said on Monday.
The withdrawal of Russian forces began on Tuesday and has been well-documented by international news agencies.
"Just under half of Russia’s fixed-wing strike force based in Syria has flown out of the country in the past two days…which suggests the Kremlin is accelerating its partial withdrawal," Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Even the White House has confirmed that the withdrawal is moving forward, with spokesman Josh Earnest admitting “the earliest indications are that the Russians are following through,” on Tuesday.
But one American institution remains stubbornly unconvinced, contrary to all evidence.
"We have not seen a significant reduction, frankly, in their combat power," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday. "Particularly the ground combat power remain static, the air combat power has been slightly reduced, but that’s it."
While the first of Russia’s bombers returned home to much fanfare on Tuesday, Warren stressed that the US Defense Department remains skeptical of the Kremlin’s motives.
"There is a long list of possibilities and rather than getting into each one of them, we’re going to continue to focus on fighting ISIL," he said.
While Warren seems surprised that all Russian forces have not departed Syria, Putin made clear during his announcement earlier this week that a small contingent would remain behind.
"Our bases of operations – our naval base in Tartus and our air base at Hmeymim – will operate as usual. They should be protected from land, sea, and air," Putin said.
"That part of our military group has traditionally been in Syria over the course of many years, and today will have to perform a very important function in monitoring the ceasefire and creating conditions for the peace process."
On Wednesday, Russian Aerospace Forces Commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said that the withdrawal of the main contingent will be complete by the end of the week.
"I think that this matter will be completed very quickly," he said in an interview with Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"Strictly in keeping with the time frames determined by Supreme [Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin] and Defense Minister [Sergei Shoigu]…Within two to three days we will complete the assigned task."