By Joseph Hincks
December 12, 2017

Russian troops will soon begin exiting Syria under new orders from President Vladimir Putin, who made an unannounced visit to the war-torn country Monday.

“I order the defense minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Putin as saying, according to the BBC.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Russian military action in Syria began in 2015 after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appealed to Putin for help. Although airstrikes nominally targeted ISIS, Russian bombs frequently hit more mainstream groups opposing pro-Assad forces and proved crucial in swinging the country’s civil war in the government’s favor.

Read more: Russia Has Denied Carrying Out Air Strikes That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu heralded the partial military withdrawal on the day of Putin’s visit. The speed at which it would occur would “depend on the situation” in Syria, he said.

Putin reportedly issued a similar directive last year, although the Kremlin’s operations in Syria continued.

Last month, the Russian President hosted Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. There, ahead of a summit between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, Putin announced his intention to end Russia’s military operations in Syria.

Write to Joseph Hincks at joseph.hincks@time.com.

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