Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the U.S. was correct to withdraw its troops from Syria.
During Putin’s annual news conference with domestic and foreign media, he responded to a question from The Chicago Tribune about his reaction to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, as well as Trump’s claims that the war against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has been won.
“Donald is right, and I agree with him,” Putin said.
The White House announced the withdrawal of troops Wednesday, a week after Trump made the decision. Critics, including Republicans, have said the move abandons Kurdish allies and promotes the goals of Russia in the Middle East. Trump, however, argued the U.S. had achieved its objective in Syria.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
He continued to defend his decision Thursday. “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there [sic] work. Time to come home & rebuild,” he tweeted.
At the news conference, Putin reiterated Moscow’s view at that the U.S. presence in Syria was illegitimate because neither the U.N. Security Council nor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has agreed to it. The withdrawal was expected to consolidate Russia’s influence in Syria, whose regime Putin has backed.
“If the U.S. decided to withdraw its contingent, it has done the right thing,” he added.
The Russian president, did, however, sound a cautious note, pointing out that the U.S. had been in Afghanistan for 17 years, and “they always say they’re withdrawing.”
“We see no signs of withdrawal, but we admit that this is possible, especially since we are moving along the path of a political settlement,” Putin said.
Military officials and analysts rejected Trump’s claim that ISIS had been defeated.
“I strongly disagree,” tweeted Tobias Ellwood, a British Ministry of Defense politician. “It has morphed into other forms of extremism, and the threat is very much alive.”
France’s defense minister said on Twitter that ISIS had been weakened but “not wiped from the map nor has its roots. It is necessary that the last pockets of this terrorist organization be definitively defeated militarily.”
Only last week, the U.S. State Department said that “nobody is declaring a mission accomplished” in the fight against ISIS.
Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek that just because the caliphate had come to an end, that did not mean that the group had, adding that pulling out “would likely be a mistake.”
This story has been updated.