Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered his defence minister to begin pulling out the majority of Russian troops in Syria, saying their task had been "completely fulfilled."
"The task presented to the Defence Ministry and the armed forces has been completely fulfilled," Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
"Thus I order the defence minister to begin withdrawing the majority of our troops from the Syrian Arab Republic tomorrow," Putin said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
Putin said he hoped the withdrawal of Russian troops will be a stimulus for a political resolution of the conflict.
He also said the withdrawal had the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally whom Russia has supported with a bombing campaign since September.
Shoigu told Putin that Russian troops have eliminated more than 2,000 rebels who had come to Syria from Russia. He said that included 17 rebel field commanders.
The news came as representatives of the Syrian government and opposition struggled to agree on al-Assad's future at the start of renewed peace talks in Geneva.