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Eight Reasons Why Russia Is Withdrawing From Syria

A well-known war correspondent answers eight of the most pertinent questions on everybody's lips

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

1.Why are we withdrawing our main forces now? 

It may be just a coincidence, but the announcement came on the day Syria peace talks were to resume in Geneva, at which Russia obtained Kurdish participation. The day before, a terror attack in Turkey aimed to ruin the cease-fire in Syria, and these will continue.  Sooner or later Russia will be accused of violating the cease-fire, or of disproportionate retaliation against so called  ‘moderate opposition’ positions and Allah knows what else. The Russian withdrawal deprives our opponents of a trump card, at least during the cease-fire. 

<figcaption>Mission accomplished</figcaption>
Mission accomplished

Bullet-proof agreements between the players in Syria, (Moscow and Washington) guarantee the preservation of this tenuous peace and of the regime of Bashar al-Assad until the Syrians decide on their future. How this happens should be specified at the negotiations. 

While no longer being involved in the conflict, Russia is the guarantor that the agreements reached with Assad are carried out,

2. Does Russia leave Syria with honor or with the flag down?

Let’s remember what goals Moscow pursued in Syria: One of them was to wipe out radical Russian Islamists who have been seen fighting with armed gangs in Syria. We destroyed about 2,000 of them, including 17 field commanders, in the course of our operation. 

Another task which was totally successful was to undermine the resource base of the ‘Islamic state’. According to official data, Russian aircraft destroyed 209 oil production facilities and 2,912 oil tankers. And Syrian troops succeeded in gaining control over the oil and gas fields near Palmyra: “Three large fields today started functioning on a regular basis”, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu emphasized in his report to Putin. That’s a great help to the devastated Syrian economy. I’ve personally observed working businesses in the area.

Thanks to the Russian Air Force, the Syrian army liberated more than 400 villages.

Last October, Putin outlined our main goal in Syria: “To stabilize the legitimate government and create the conditions for a political compromise”. In case anyone has forgotten, the Assad regime was hardly functioning by autumn 2015, and the jihadists were moving towards Damascus. Today Assad’s representatives sit at the table with their enemies’ commanders and try to negotiate. More than forty different groups joined the ceasefire. Is it possible not to thank the Russian military and diplomats? No one had been able to do that during more than five years, but Moscow did it in five months! 

3. What signal are we sending to Syria and the world?

Russia is showing that in order to achieve the main goal, which is peace, one can sacrifice some ambitions and compromise. The opposition has already commented on Moscow's steps and expressed the hope that “Russia will regain its historical role, which is to help nations striving for freedom”. 

4. What myths are refuted?

It's funny, but when the military operation began, many domestic opponents of the government wrung their hands: “This is a new Afghanistan! We’re falling into the same trap!” Today, they are criticizing the Kremlin for an “early withdrawal”.

In fact, no one ever said that we came to stay in Syria for decades. Russia was not going to ‘occupy’ it, had no plans for expansion, annexation, taking over oil fields, etc. Moscow didn’t expect anything from this war aside from improving its image and demonstrating the capabilities of the Russian army, which they had stopped taking seriously after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many Westerners were convinced that sooner or later Moscow would have to get involved in a ground operation, which would be a ‘second Afghanistan’. But to paraphrase a famous saying, we cannot be more Syrian than the Syrians.

 5. What is withdrawn and what remains?

From Putin's statement, we can assume that only the main air personnel and a few dozen planes and helicopters will return home. Both the logistics center in Tartus and the airbase at Khmeymim will remain, as a coordinating center during reconciliation. “They need to be well protected from land, sea and air”, the President said. Probably both the anti-aircraft missile and gun systems “Pantsir C2” and S-400 will remain in Syria in the event of sudden movements by  “hotheads” from neighboring Turkey. They will carry out intelligence missions, monitor the ceasefire and just in case, a few bombers, attack helicopters and fighters will remain at the airbase. As Putin said, the air base has to be protected, but they will only strike in an emergency. 

6. Won’t the fight against terrorism subside?

We can assume the Americans agreed to strengthen their aviation in the fight against ISIS.  The Washington-led coalitions will also have to accept that Assad's army, as well as the Free Syrian Army, is fighting ISIS and al-Nusra. Russia will assist with intelligence that the Americans cannot get due to their difficult relations with Damascus, and we will assess the results of the US attacks and their willingness to work as part of a team.

7. Will Assad’s army be able to perform?

Let's start with the fact that  the withdrawal of troops is agreed with Bashar al-Assad. Today things are not as bad as they were last August. It’s no longer  about the survival of Assad’s army but its ability to attack terrorist positions. Damascus can now transfer resources from the liberated areas to the most dangerous flash points. The most effective policy would be for the national army and opposition groups that accepted the cease-fire to cooperate. 

8. Will we have to go back there?  

Russia is not going away for good. The Khmeymim airbase is ready to receive fighters at any time. It would only take two days to transfer the Russian aviation groups back there. Not to mention the Russian army. Both have strategic bombers ready to take off from Russian airfields and hit targets in Syria, the ships of the Caspian Fleet have their legendary “Calibers”, and a naval group in the Mediterranean has a whole range of ‘therapeutic pills’. There is no doubt that in case of aggravation or a threat, Russia will use these resources until bombers return to Khmeymim.

But it prefers a diplomatic victory in which no one loses. 

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