President Vladimir Putin has ordered the withdrawal of a significant part of Russia's military in Syria, after saying the problem of Daesh in Syria has been solved "spectacularly."

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Syrian leader Bashar al Assad (R) meet with servicemen as they visit the Khmeimim  air base in Latakia Province, Syria, December 11, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Syrian leader Bashar al Assad (R) meet with servicemen as they visit the Khmeimim air base in Latakia Province, Syria, December 11, 2017. (Reuters)

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said on Monday that elements of Moscow's military contingent to Syria had already begun returning to Russia, RIA news agency reported. But Washington has already expressed scepticsm about Russia's statement.

President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the withdrawal of a significant part of Russia's military in Syria during a surprise visit to the war-torn country, after saying the problem of Daesh in Syria has been solved "spectacularly".

"I order the defence minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases," Putin said as he visited Khmeimim air base.

However, the US was quick to point out that "Russian comments about removal of their forces do not often correspond with actual troop reductions, and do not affect US priorities in Syria," said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.

Putin, who was welcomed by Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad at the military base added, "I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia."

The Syrian opposition delegation said on Monday they welcomed any action to promote peace in Syria, following Putin's announcement.

TRT World's Philip Owira reports.

The visit marks Putin's first trip to Syria and comes as the regime forces have retaken control over most of Syria under Russian air cover.

Russia first launched air strikes in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad's favour while dramatically increasing Moscow's own influence in the Middle East.

TRT World's Ahmed al Burai reports.

'Task solved spectacularly'

The air base has served as the main foothold for the air campaign since Russia began its intervenation in the Syrian civil war in support of the regime.

"The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part, been solved and solved spectacularly," Putin said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

"I congratulate you" Putin told Russian servicemen gathered at the base. 

The first leg in a three-country one-day whirlwind diplomatic visit  sees Putin also meeting his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts. Putin is keen to leverage the heightened Middle East influence that Syria has given him to cast himself as a leader who can do diplomacy as well as military force. The unrest in Jerusalem and Syrian peace process are high on the agenda.

TRT World 's  Defence and Political Analyst, Oubai Shahbandar reports.

Syrian peace process

He was also quoted as saying that Russia would retain control of the Khmeimim air base in as well as a naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus "on a permanent basis."

Putin also told Assad he wanted to work with Iran and Turkey to kick-start the Syrian peace process, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin was cited as telling Assad he hoped that it would be possible to launch the work of the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue and that he would discuss the matter in forthcoming meetings with the presidents of Egypt and Turkey.

Putin made the stopover at the base in Latakia province, a regime stronghold, on his way to Egypt where he arrived later Monday.

Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a "new stage" as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reform.

More than 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule that sparked a brutal crackdown.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies