Suriya al Kubra!
“I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished.”
These words constitute an admission. Putin revealed that Russian
forces did not come to Syria to fight radical Islamic terrorists or ISIS, as he and other Russian government officials have repeatedly stated since their military operation kicked off in September. ISIS
is still going strong as a political-military force in Syria,
controlling significant territory, fighting in Syria (and Iraq), and
from Syria recruiting and inspiring affiliates to terrorist
It should now be clear to those hanging on to a shred of hope that Putin was never going to join the Western coalition against ISIS
in Syria. The Kremlin’s objective was always to achieve a negotiated
settlement through the Geneva Talks that allows Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad to remain in power for some time and for Russia to retain its
key influence over his government. It was not to fight terrorism
Russia's sudden split ain't all that. In truth, only withithdrawing some forces — bomber squadrons, for
example — while retaining his military infrastructure (air bases, port
facilities, etc.) in Syria.
For years Russia tried to get its way mainly through diplomacy but
that didn’t work. So last September, Russia decided to try the same
strategy in Syria that worked in Ukraine. Russia’s tactical military
moves there tipped in their favor the negotiating dynamic that boiled down to the Minsk Agreements.
Just as in Ukraine, Kremlin is seeking to turn military advances into
diplomatic leverage, having demonstrated it will intervene militarily to
save its ally and gain territory for Syria.
This leverage cuts two ways. Russia’s maximum moment of leverage
over the future of Syria will be on Tuesday just its forces begin to
withdraw. Up until now Russia’s military intervention had increased
pressure on the Syrian opposition and its backers, Turkey, Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, France, the UK and the other European
and Middle Eastern states in the 64-member coalition led by the United
States. Russia had rescued Assad’s government from ever-increasing
military losses and a real threat to its control of territory
Starting Tuesday, Russia will also have increased its leverage over
Assad. By signaling a Russian withdrawal — and at this point, it is only
signaling — Putin is making clear that Russia is not providing Assad
unlimited support. Now that Russia’s brutal military intervention has
forced the West to compromise on when Assad must leave, Assad must be
ready to compromise with the opposition and the coalition on a political
settlement. Russia thus appears to have thrown its weight behind the
U.N.-led negotiations in Geneva.
Big questions remain:
1) How much military force will Russia withdraw
and what assets will Russia leave in Syria? Will air operations
2) Will Russia be prepared to deploy troops again if Assad
begins to lose territory?
3) Will Assad (and Iran) compromise?
are the implications for Ukraine?