After making a surprise visit to Syria on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the country, adding that their task has largely been completed.
Putin was welcomed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, both men smiling and embracing at the meeting.
“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” Putin stated. Putin addressed Russian troops in a televised speech where he stated that he had ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to begin the partial withdrawal. Putin told the troops that they had helped the Syrian military crush the “most battle-ready group of international terrorists.”
“On the whole the task has been completed. And completed brilliantly,” he said.
Last month, Putin stated that the efforts to end the war were leaving the military stage to the diplomatic one, focusing more on political reforms and negotiations than military action.
He did, however, stated that both Russian bases – Hmeimim and the naval facility in Tartus – would continue to function in order to repel any attacks.
“If terrorists rear their heads again we will inflict the blows that they have not seen yet,” he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed gratitude to Russia for its assistance stating that “The Syrians will never forget what the Russian forces did. Their blood mixed with the blood of the martyrs of the Syrian army. This means that this blood is stronger than terrorism and its mercenaries.”
The first Russian jets were scheduled to leave on Monday, December 11 but 23 planes, two helicopters, and military police are expected to return soon.
While some are hailing the move, the fact still remains that terrorists inhabit a sizeable portion of the country, not only in isolated pockets but in Idlib and the eastern areas as well, despite the defeat of ISIS proper.
For instance, Andrew Korybko, writing for Oriental Review, sees a more pragmatic purpose behind Putin’s announcement. He writes,
President Assad once famously promised to liberate “every inch” of Syria, but there’s no way that he’ll be able to free those parts of the country now unless he “compromises” with his opponents. In hindsight, this might be why President Putin said during last month’s Sochi Summit with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts that “It is obvious that the process of reform will not be easy and will require compromises and concessions from all participants, including of course the government of Syria.” Russia won’t ever target the “moderate opposition rebels” that it signed DEZ deals with and invited to Astana, so Damascus will be compelled to “compromise” with them if it wants to reassert its authority over the territory that they presently occupy.
The same situation applies for the PYD-YPG Kurds, too. The 2000 US troops in northeastern Syria and 10 American bases there make it impossible for the SAA to militarily reintegrate this region, thus necessitating some sort of “decentralization” deal likely modelled off of the one that’s included in the Russian-written “draft constitution” and possibly seeing DEZs (which the Kurdish-controlled third of the country might eventually be designated) transformed into “decentralization” units. The SAA’s Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah allies won’t be of much help in any forthcoming liberation operation that Damascus might secretly be planning in these regions because they lack the pivotal airpower of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, which was responsible for turning the tide of war in the first place in late 2015.
They’d also be violating the DEZs that Moscow worked so hard to establish, likely earning each of them a sharp rebuke from Russia behind closed doors or even in public if the situation was serious enough to “warrant” it. President Putin is adamant that the War on Syria begins transitioning from the military theater to the political one, using his proposed “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” as the template for proceeding to the next step, and he will do whatever is reasonably possible within his and his country’s power to ensure that this happens.
Korbyko sees this decision as closely linked to Putin’s own political necessities at home and the domestic Russian situation. He continues,
The refusal of Russia to get militarily involved in what it officially views as the “civil war” dimension of the conflict between Damascus and the armed “moderate opposition rebels” following its victory in the international one between the SAA and Daesh suggests that Moscow will now intensify all of its diplomatic efforts towards reaching a “political solution”. There are a few reasons behind all of this, but they can broadly be categorized by domestic and international imperatives that share a common pragmatism.
On the home front, President Putin is delivering on the promise that he made to his countrymen to win their War on Terror, having done so in only a third of his term (~2 years) and without dragging it on indefinitely like the US has done for over 8 times as long. Neither he nor his voters want to see Russia embroiled in what they always fear could become an Afghan-like quagmire by continuing military operations during what they believe to now be a solely “civil war” context. In addition, downscaling Russia’s involvement in Syria could allow the federal government to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars to domestic projects during President Putin’s expected fourth term, which boosts his populist credentials during this election season.
The other reason behind why Russia will probably focus mostly on diplomatic initiatives at this time is because of the role that this intricate process can play in promoting Moscow’s 21st-century “balancing” act in becoming the supreme stabilizing force in the Eurasian supercontinent. By withdrawing most of Russia’s Aerospace Forces from Syria and thereby creating the conditions whereby President Assad is prompted into making “political compromises” as a result, Russia expects to enhance its strategic relations with Turkey, the Kurds, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, all with an eye on furthering the prospects of the emerging Multipolar World Order in this pivotal location at the tri-continental crossroads of Afro-Eurasia.
Furthermore, by withdrawing right after accusing the US of provocative in-air maneuvers over Syria, Russia is extending an “olive branch” of “goodwill” to its Great Power rival and signaling that it’s eager as always to normalize relations if Washington is ready to reciprocate. The much-sought-after and so-called “New Détente” could finally make progress if Russia and the US reach a “gentlemen’s agreement” with one another over the fate of the Syrian Kurdish “federalists”, as appears to already somewhat be the case with both of them encouraging their on-the-ground partners of the SAA and SDF respectively to refrain from crossing the Euphrates River border between them.
Bearing all of the above in mind, the implications of Russia’s announced military withdrawal from Syria are much larger than simply signifying Daesh’s defeat, but point to a thought-out and far-reaching plan to prompt President Assad into making “political concessions” to the “opposition” as a means of enhancing Russia’s overall “balancing” role in the Mideast, all for the “greater good” of multipolarity. While there’s hope that this process could also yield a breakthrough in relations with the US, such expectations should understandably be tempered by the reality of the “deep state’s” War on Trump, though the prospects of “constructive” US-Russian interaction via the Syrian Kurds – particularly in the event that they succeed in “institutionalizing” their self-declared “federation” in northeastern Syria – shouldn’t be overlooked.
There is no doubt that Putin’s decision is based on the necessities of Russian political life and of Russian interests above all else. However, it should be noted that the withdrawal will only be a partial one and that Russia has announced draw downs in the past only to demonstrate a highly effective military prowess on the ground with those drawn down forces. Now, with a public announcement and acknowledgement of the defeat of ISIS in Syria even to the extent that Russia is preparing to “draw down” its forces, the United States is even further embarrassed upon the world stage and its empire is undressed before everyone since it still refuses to leave even after its stated goals have been accomplished by an opposing foreign power no less. There is no more excuse and cover for the United States to stay in Syria but stay in Syria it plans to do.
Still, with a draw down instead of a complete removal of forces, Russia maintains the ability to reinforce and shore up the Syrian military and still conduct strikes if necessary against terrorist targets. Those forces also stand as a bulwark against direct American aggression against Damascus.
On the other hand, the Russian draw down and its focus on “diplomatic” and “political” solutions to the crisis could lead to the emboldening of terrorists in Idlib and the entrenchment of terrorist SDF/Kurdish forces, all of whom are jockeying for independent “autonomous” states.
At the end of the day, we can only wait and see how these new developments will pan out. For his part, Assad has promised to liberate every inch of Syria and, for the sake of the Syrian people, we hope that will eventually happen.
Brandon Turbeville writes for Activist Post – article archive here – He is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutionsand Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President, and Resisting The Empire: The Plan To Destroy Syria And How The Future Of The World Depends On The Outcome. Turbeville has published over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.
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