Why Is Russia Pulling Out Its Troops from Syria?
(Russian pilot is welcomed back from Syria at an airbase near the Russian city Voronezh on Tuesday, March 15. Photo: AP)
Less than 48 hour after its announcement, media is full of analysis on the motives behind Kremlin’s decision. While the media are rather arbitrarily speaking of a ‘withdrawal’ of Russian troops, it seems that what Moscow has actually done is calling back its soldiers. After all, in Syria the Russian troops have conquered or handed no territory to other belligerents engaged in the war.
The decision debunks lengthy essays on how Russia is planning to revive the Soviet Empire. Fundamentally different from the classic empire set up by communists, through its presence in the Levant Russia aimed to:
1. Retain its strategic military base in Tartus to continue its presence in east of the Mediterranean Sea.
2. Shift anti-terrorist operations from Central Asia and northern Caucasia to Syria.
3. Keep its ally Bashar Assad in power in Syria and prevent the ascent of a pro-West state.
Up to now, Moscow insisted on backing Assad against pro-West and takfiri terrorist groups that enjoy close relations with Saudi Arabia. However, negotiations with American partners have convinced it to pull out some of its troops from Syria. This decision, sign of a new bargain with Washington, may be a prelude to a transition period in which Bashar Assad leaves power after a general election is held in the country. While the proposal was set forth several months ago, it had faced resistance by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and Ankara were against Assad’s remaining in power, even if it was for a brief period. Nonetheless, it seems that recent developments have convinced the Saudis and the Turks to agree with Assad’s temporary presidency.
Moscow’s pulling out of its troops from Syria is also a strong signal for the opposition, showing Kremlin’s determination to reach a peaceful solution in Syria, and a considerable concession on Moscow’s side that should convince other parties to take one step forward. The Geneva talks are in progress and plans for federalization of Syria seem to be an acceptable solution for the West.
But it seems that other factors have also led to Russia’s surprising decision. Clearly, Moscow, like Washington, cannot root out the Islamic State single-handedly. Knowing that IS has succeeded in establishing for itself a social base in areas under control, and to train its own human resources. All this happens when the Russian economy has been hit hard by low oil prices. At this juncture, Russia’s decision to engage in a grand deal seems to be inevitable.
* This piece was initially published in Iranian Diplomacy Persian. Hassan Beheshtipour is a lecturer at Shahid Beheshti University and an international affairs analyst.