Obama Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin's (right) Syrian withdrawal announcement takes US Barack Obama (left) and other world leaders by surprise.Reuters

Russia's shock decision to pull out of Syria may have taken international leaders by surprise but they have welcomed the move, saying that it paves the way for a peaceful solution to the five-year-old war. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement comes just as a truce is currently being negotiated in Geneva is not lost on leaders.

Putin, in announcing the partial withdrawal of Russian armed forces from Syria, said that five months of military campaigns have mostly succeeded in their primary objective of eliminating the immediate wider threat from the Islamic State (Isis). According to Russia Today, the country's state media outlet, Putin is now pushing for a diplomatic resolution to the war that is entering its sixth year.

RT reported that Putin has now ordered the Foreign Ministry to intensify Moscow's participation in organising the peace process to resolve the Syrian crisis. The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had told US President Barack Obama that the decision will "certainly serve as a good signal to all conflicting sides and create conditions for the start of a true peace process."

Obama, RT said welcomed the "much needed reduction in violence" since the ceasefire took effect. A White House statement said: "The president underscored that a political transition is required to end the violence in Syria."

Germany also welcomed the move by Russia. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that it will put additional pressure on the parties in Geneva to negotiate a peaceful transition to end the Syrian conflict.

"This will increase the pressure on the al-Assad regime to finally and seriously negotiate a peaceful political transition in Geneva," Steinmeier said in a statement. The United Nations Security Council's President Ismael Abraao Gaspar Martins told reporters: "When we see forces withdrawing, it means war is taking a different step. So that's good."

Salim al-Muslat, the spokesman for the Syrian rebel High Negotiations Committee said: "If there is seriousness in implementing the withdrawal, it will give the talks a positive push. If this is a serious step, it will form a major element of pressure on the regime, because the Russian support prolonged the regime. Matters will change significantly as a result of that."

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who is in Canberra, Australia on a visit, was positive, according to AFP news agency. He said: "The fact that Russia announced that its withdrawing part of its forces indicates that they don't see an imminent need for resort to force in maintaining the ceasefire."

He continued: "That in and of itself should be a positive sign. Now we have to wait and see." He reiterated that the fight against Islamic State will continue and that the entire international community is united in that.

RT noted that the New York Times believes that the withdrawal was due to a rift between Moscow and Damascus. In dismissing this, the state-owned news agency said that the Russian initiative to withdraw from Syria had received the full support of the Syrian government before the announcement was made.

Stratfor, a global intelligence think tank said: "With their actions in Syria thus far, the Russians have showcased their improved combat capabilities and some new, previously unused weapons ... Russia has also largely achieved its goal of weakening Islamic State ... "

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