President Donald Trump sent lawmakers into a tailspin on Wednesday when he announced the sudden withdrawal of American troops in Syria. But at least one world leader thinks it’s a mighty fine idea: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin, speaking at his annual news conference on Thursday, said he agreed with Trump’s claim a day earlier that militant group ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria.
“Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” Putin said, adding that Trump had made the correct decision to pull U.S. troops from the war-torn Middle Eastern country because the Syrian government never invited them to be there.
Syria has been engaged in a bloody civil war since early 2011. Russian forces are a major backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the war. The U.S. has supported the opposing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces, which argued Trump’s decision was premature.
Putin expressed doubt on Thursday that the U.S. would follow through on its Syria withdrawal.
“We don’t see any signs yet of the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” Putin said. “How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they’re pulling out their troops.”
Trump’s declaration on Wednesday that the U.S. had “won against ISIS” in Syria and planned to pull its roughly 2,000 troops from the country startled members of Congress, including some of the president’s closest allies.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a onetime Trump critic turned frequent cheerleader, railed against an abrupt pullout of U.S. forces in the region.
“With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated in Syria, Iraq, and after just returning from visiting there ― certainly not Afghanistan,” Graham tweeted.
Graham, along with five other senators, penned a letter to Trump on Wednesday warning him about the dangers of his decision and pleading with him to reverse course.
“We believe that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia,” they wrote. “If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of ISIS in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region.”
In another move welcomed by the Kremlin, the Trump administration said Wednesday that it planned to lift sanctions against two companies owned by a Russian oligarch.
“Treasury sanctioned these companies because of their ownership and control by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, not for the conduct of the companies themselves,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Wednesday.
Mnuchin announced new sanctions on Russian individuals over interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but critics contend the measures are insignificant and merely symbolic.