A Surprise Pull Out From Syria – Making Sense Of Putin’s Strategy

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Mar 15 2016
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Out of the blue on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawing of the “main part” of its forces in Syria – starting from Tuesday. It was roughly 5-month ago when he sent his military hardware and soldiers into the country in what seemed to be a long-term commitment in a war that has killed 300,000 people and created millions of refugees.


Western countries, especially superpower U.S., were caught off guard with the sudden announcement by Putin. The surprise move, however, shows the Russian supremo has yet again shown his ability to do the unexpected. So far, there’s no report indicating Putin has given any advance notice to Obama about the latest twist in the Middle East.

Vladimir Putin - Walking with Fighter Jet Behind

At the Kremlin, Mr. Putin said – “I consider the mission set for the defence ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished. I am therefore ordering the defence ministry to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our military force from the Syrian Arab Republic from tomorrow.”


The details on the pull out are still thin and open to speculations. Nobody knows how many military personnel, military hardware or gadgets had been sent to Syria to begin with. The estimation was around 4,000 men, including airmen, logistical support, and marine infantry. But Moscow hasn’t released any official figure so the actual numbers are up to one’s imagination.

Russia Su-24 Shot Down - Deployment of S-400 Air Defence System

Putin’s definition of “main component” of Russia’s military in Syria could mean anything. He didn’t say Russian airstrikes would stop. There was no mention about dismantling the lethal S-400 SAM (surface-to-air-missile system) deployed to Syria after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. Still, Russia has achieved the following within a short span of 5-months in Syria:


  • Russian fighter jets flew more than 9,000 sorties
  • Russian destroyed 209 oil production and transfer facilities
  • Russian helped Syrian government troops to retake 400 settlements
  • Russian assisted Damascus to regain control over more than 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles) of territory


Syria Airstrikes - Putin Shake Hands with Assad

Therefore, was Vladimir Putin satisfied with the above success and concluded it’s time to pullout as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is no longer threatened? Perhaps the Russian president believes now is the best time to play politics, to prove to the world that Russia wasn’t interested in the Syrian War but merely to stabilize the region – a role equivalent to superpower America.


Mr Putin did not give a timeline for the withdrawal and said that Russian troops would retain control of the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria’s Latakia province. This is exactly like the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan but maintain a combat presence in the country – indefinitely. In a way, Russia is copying the military model of United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel - Little Genius Devil

Clearly, Germany welcomed the news because it could reduce Syrian refugees flocking to the Europe, an issue which has hit Chancellor Angela Merkel – losing two of three state elections to a 3-year-old party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). Other EU countries would have nothing but appreciation to the Russia for cooling down the Syrian War, even if it was a temporary one.


Even if it’s true that President Bashar al-Assad would eventually be replaced, the latest military move could be a precious political move to Putin. The message is quite simple – Moscow is in control and can bring down Assad regime peacefully. What the Western countries need to do is to “talk, consult, respect and negotiate” with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin - Toasting Champagne

More importantly, Putin is sending a message to the global community that Russia remains capable of projecting power thousands of miles from Moscow. That the world has a choice about choosing a new superpower that can do the job which the U.S. couldn’t. Russia is the choice in the Middle East for anyone who gets bullied by the ISIS, Saudi, Turkey or United States.


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