By Shannon Redstall
A Syrian group in New Zealand says Russia removing troops from Syria is a step in the right direction, but the only achievement the superpower made was testing new weapons on the war-torn nation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced this morning Russia will begin to withdraw troops from Tuesday (local time), saying his aims in the war-torn country have been "generally accomplished".
But Syrian Solidarity New Zealand co-founder Ali Akil says Russia's aims were not just supporting Bashar-Al-Asaad’s regime.
"The only one [goal] that I think they achieved in Syria was to test new weaponries and arms that they have but they haven’t had the chance to test. Syria was a free field for them to test all the weapons that they wanted to test regardless of whether they are internationally forbidden or not."
He also said the conflict is simply too costly for the Russian government to continue.
"It has cost them heaven and earth, and they cannot sustain that. It has cost them not only in terms of money, but has also cost them from their own militants and their own equipment."
Mr Akil says he hopes this decision means Russia will take part in peace talks.
"It is certainly a good sign for Russia to realise that no matter how much destruction and no matter how much killing they do, there is no way they will end this revolution," Mr Akil says.
At face value the decision is good news, he says. However Syrians remain sceptical.
"Since the truce has begun, Russia itself has violated the truce many times and we remain suspicious of anything that Bashar-Al-Assad and his allies do, including Russia and Iran."
Today marks five years to the day since the Syrian Revolution started with peaceful protests, and Mr Akil says Syrians are more empowered than ever to claim back their country.
"The people of Syria are so determined to finish off this job no matter how much it costs, and the fact that they are still going after five years, and after hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of people affected as displaced or refugees, is very strong evidence of that."
Mr Akil arrived in New Zealand from Syria in 2000 with his family. He considers himself a Syrian New Zealander and lives here with his wife and two New Zealand born daughters.