I am always interested in Putin's tactics, whether sneaky or bullying. He is the one to watch because he is dangerous. He rarely keeps a promise or sticks to agreements he puts his name to. He can tip the balance of world power. He loves to flex his military muscles in a threatening way because he knows the rest of the world (excluding the Middle East and North Korea) is striving for a peaceful co-existence and is very reluctant to initiate hostilities. So, he pushes the envelope to see how far he can go. Then he seems to pull back at the very brink of an international incident. I think he especially enjoys yanking Obama's chain.
In a surprise move, Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the "main part" of its forces in Syria from Tuesday. He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives. What happened to his promise to stay and help defeat ISIS ? The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose office said in a statement he had agreed to the move. The pullout was "in accordance with the situation on the ground", the statement said.
Russia began its campaign of air strikes in Syria last September, tipping the balance in favour of the Syrian government and allowing it to recapture territory from rebels.
"I consider the mission set for the defense ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished," Mr Putin said in a meeting at the Kremlin.
"I am therefore ordering the defense ministry to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our military force from the Syrian Arab Republic from tomorrow."
Putin may be hedging his bets:
When Russian airstrikes began in Syria, President Assad's regime was on the brink of collapse. Less than six months later, Russia says its action allowed Syrian government troops to retake 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles) of territory.
By intervening, Vladimir Putin made clear that Russia was prepared to assert its interests. The results ensure Moscow a bigger say in what happens at the peace talks.
The decision to scale down Russian operations may partly be fuelled by cost, given falling oil prices; it could also be driven by a desire to end Russia's isolation and western sanctions.
But while Vladimir Putin has ordered his foreign minister to focus efforts on the political front in Syria, he appears to be hedging his bets.
Critically, sophisticated air defence systems seem set to stay. And as we have never been told officially how many troops were ever sent to Syria, we are unlikely to know how many will remain.
Mr Putin said that Russia's Hmeimim air base in Latakia province and its Mediterranean naval base at Tartus would continue to operate as normal. He said both must be protected "from land, air and sea".
Syria's opposition cautiously welcomed the Russian announcement.
"If there is seriousness in implementing the withdrawal, it will give the [peace] talks a positive push," said Salim al-Muslat, spokesman for the opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee.
The US also gave a guarded response. US officials said Washington had received no advance warning of Mr Putin's statement.
"We will have to see exactly what Russia's intentions are," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
President Obama has discussed the development with Mr Putin in a phone call, the
White House and the Kremlin said, giving few details. It seems, there is suspicion and unease all around until Russia's motives become clearer. No wonder there is little basis for trust. Russia has long insisted its bombing campaign only targets terrorist groups but Western powers have complained the raids hit political opponents of President Assad...Including hundreds of innocent citizens, hospitals and humanitarian aid stations.
What did Russia achieve in Syria?
*Russian aircraft flew more than 9,000 sorties
*Destroyed 209 oil production and transfer facilities
*Helped Syrian government troops to retake 400 settlements
*Helped Damascus to regain control over more than 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles) of territory
Source: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, quoted by Russian media.
The UN's envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura has meanwhile described the latest peace talks as a "moment of truth". He said there was no "plan B" should the talks fail, with the only alternative a return to war.
A cessation of hostilities agreed by most participants in the conflict began late last month - but there have been reports of some violations on all sides.