Sharp digression: why Vladimir Putin has decided to withdraw its troops from Syria

Sharp digression: why Vladimir Putin has decided to withdraw its troops from Syria

The military operation of Russia in Syria took five and a half months: the Federation Council approved the introduction of troops on 30 September, 15 March, President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of “basic troops” from the territory of the Republic.

Goals and means

“Our goal is to stabilize the legitimate government and create conditions for a political compromise”, — said Putin in October 2015. Another objective Russia, he proclaimed the need to “cleanse Syria from the militants, the terrorists and to protect Russia from possible terrorist attacks”.

To solve these two tasks in the region was deployed to a land base. Hamim at the air base in the Western Latakia province is the grouping of the Russian space forces. More than four months of the campaign, the group has grown to 70 aircraft. Guarding the base and served technique about 4 thousand people, wrote Reuters. In addition to aviation groups based in Latakia based powerful anti-aircraft complex. The group’s air defense was a part of several systems “Armour-C1”, anti-aircraft missile complex “Buk-M2”, and new complexes With-400.

With sea airbase was covering a group of ships led by the missile cruiser “Varyag”. Besides the missile ships of “Dagestan” and “svijazhsk”, “Uglich” and “Velikiy Ustyug”, submarine B-237 “Rostov-on-don”. Exploration by means of standard fleet was carried out using reconnaissance ship “Vasily Tatischev”. It is through these ships had suffered 48 blows cruise missiles to Syria.

It is estimated that the operation in Syria has cost the Russian budget of 2.5 million dollars a day. For comparison, U.S. military spending on the Syrian campaign of about $11.4 million on a daily basis.

During the conflict it became known about the four dead Russian soldiers. A month after the beginning of the operation killed 19-year-old soldier Vadim Kostenko: the official cause of his death was called a suicide. November 24 killed in Syria Oleg Peshkov — the pilot of the su-24 bomber, shot down by Turkish fighter jets. Navigator of the su-24 Konstantin Muratina were rescued, but during the rescue operations killed marine Alexander Pozynich. On 3 February the Russian defense Ministry announced the death in Syria of Russian military adviser, came under mortar attack. According to the official version, he was not involved in hostilities, and engaged in the training of the Syrian military, who receive Russian military equipment. The name of the deceased, the defense Ministry did not name.

The results of operations

During the Russian operation, according to the defense Ministry, it was released more than 1 000 square kilometers of territory, more than 200 localities came under the control of the government. But, according to IHS Conflict Monitor, for the whole of 2015, the government army with sraneniyu with 2014 year lost about 16% of the territories, most of which are located in the East of HOMS province, in Palmyra.

As of dear 2015 IG controlled 78 thousand square kilometers, the Syrian government – 30 thousand, 15.8 thousand – were under control of Syrian Kurds.

However, by the time of the signing of the peace agreements, the troops of Assad are in a better position than they were before the arrival of the Russian military, said the Deputy Director of the Institute for political and military analysis Alexander Khramchikhin. With the support of the Russian aviation and troops of the Lebanese “Hezbollah” the army managed to cut off Eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo city controlled by the opposition, from the border with Turkey. Thus, the relationship between Northern rebels and the city was lost. After the signing of the armistice on 27 February, troops of Assad has not ceased to attack the parts of the city, the Russian VC also continued its airstrikes. But continued success on this front could not be reached.

With the support of Russian aircraft in the last days of the operation carried out an offensive on the city of Palmyra in Eastern HOMS province. The ancient city was captured in may 2015 is militants (banned in Russia). In recent days, the Syrian army managed using the passed Russia missile systems of volley fire “Buratino” and “Tornado” come to the city on 5-7 km.

The opposition also took advantage of the truce to the background of the upcoming talks in Geneva, to strengthen its position, says Khramchikhin. Opposition troops launched an offensive in Northern Latakia in early March and was able to capture the strategic heights of al-Navara. On the South of the province, the rebels also attacked government troops. Detachments of the terrorist organization “al-Nusra Front” (banned in Russia) and “Jund al-Aqsa” captured two vertices in the village of al-AIS.

“They declared the fight against ISIS — ISIL is not defeated, although some damage & damage”, says Sukhov. On the other hand smuggling of oil is seriously disrupted, the Syrian army has occupied large areas, and “on the ground” to start the process of negotiation that may be more important consultations in Geneva, the expert notes.

Unexpected care

The decision on the withdrawal of the main Russian forces of Syria’s President Vladimir Putin had not discussed any of the world leaders, except the President of the Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad. About it has informed journalists a press-Secretary of Putin, Dmitry Peskov.

Representatives of the Syrian opposition has called Putin’s decision a surprise. “I don’t understand the statements of Russia, it’s a surprise, as well as their entry into the war. God protects us,” he said in an interview with Reuters Fadi Ahmad, the representative of the “First coastal division” (group of the Free Syrian army).

Putin explained the beginning of withdrawal of troops from Syria because the main tasks performed. This is good news, considering that in a middle Eastern context, many feared ground operation, said the first Deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on defense Sergei Zhigarev. The Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on international Affairs Konstantin Kosachev said that the decision of the President on the withdrawal of the main contingent of the Russian armed forces from Syria long-awaited. “Not because the operation was delayed. It dates from the beginning was not predetermined […]: the operation could with equal probability and be more fleeting, and to last for a considerable time,” he explained in Facebook.

Why was the decision taken now and without any public preparation, is not clear, says Qadri Jamil, former Deputy Prime Minister of the Syrian government: “I think Russia had achieved its military objectives, and at the same time at the beginning of the Geneva talks it opens wide the door for political solution, facilitates this task”. Russia has fulfilled the objective of preventing the fall of the Syrian state, partially eased the threat of terrorism, besides, the Syrian operation was originally announced as temporary, he said.

Research fellow at the Centre for Arab and Islamic studies of the Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolay Sukhov in conversation with has not excluded that the decision was made as a result of trade with the Americans — not for nothing that former Secretary of state Henry Kissinger came to Moscow.

“The situation in the region has changed in favor of the government — Russia has strengthened Syria as a state. No matter how despotic it may be, is the only guarantor of the survival of the population, – said Sukhov. – In addition, Russia has increased its credibility as a global power in Asia and Africa”. Finally, the operation became a test of combat readiness of the army: teaching, testing in combat conditions many weapons systems – “a great advertising of our arms on the world market”, – the expert believes.

Will continue to act as Russian troops and soon they will be withdrawn, is still unknown.

On the question of whether Russia leaves the opportunity to return to Syria, Peskov reminded that in Syria, Russian troops acted at the request of the Syrian government. However, the question, did from Assad’s request to stop the operation, Peskov said that the decision was made “based on the assessment results of the operation of Asa”.

Questions about the schedule of withdrawal of troops, the number of remaining contingent, and whether in Syria the s-400, Peskov was forwarded to the Ministry of defense. The representative of the Department stated that it “need not rush”, promising to provide comments on Tuesday.

Peace talks

The strengthening of the Assad regime and the depletion of armed opposition opened the way for peace negotiations, which since 2012 has said both Moscow and Washington.

Opposing forces concluded the armistice itself, but the fact that government forces and the armed opposition agreed to his suggested format, demonstrated how both sides are exhausted, told The Washington Post the Director of the Center for middle Eastern studies the University of Oklahoma Joshua Landis.

The announcement of the withdrawal of most Russian troops from Syria was made by the Kremlin on the eve of another round of talks on the Syrian settlement in Geneva.

Representatives of the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition met for the first time in a month, after the previous round of talks was derailed because of allegations of opponents of official Damascus of violating the ceasefire.

But on February 22, Russia and the United States agreed to the termination on February 27, all fighting in Syria with the exception of those that are against prohibited in Russia organizations “Islamic state” and “dzhebhat EN-Nusra”. The truce was eventually signed by more than 40 armed groups of the Syrian opposition.

Alternative to the Geneva format of negotiations of the settlement. There is no “plan B” in case of failure does not exist, said on 13 March, the UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura. The only alternative is to prolong the conflict. About the lack of other options in case of failure of the armistice and the inter-Syrian talks, said the Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva are not expected, but observers maintained a degree of optimism due to the fact that the agreed under the mediation of Russia, the USA and the UN, the ceasefire more or less adhered to the last two weeks. According to estimates by U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry that the level of violence fell during this time by 80-90%, while the responsibility for ostavshiisa cases the bloodshed he laid on the Pro-government forces. Russia and Iran, he said, has taken responsibility “for the forces that they control or influence”, so Putin “should be worried”, said Kerry.

A new meeting had hoped all parties to the conflict. On the eve of the Russian and American diplomats met to discuss her agenda in Geneva and in Amman (Jordan took on the task of selecting participants for negotiations, the state Department has placed the centre for monitoring of violence).

Frozen conflict

As far as the withdrawal of the Russian contingent will contribute to peace in Syria is an open question. Peskov did not answer the question of journalists, whether means adopted on Monday the decision to stop military operations of the Russian space forces. Russia can thus also make it clear that is not going to put any more pressure on Assad so that he was involved in the negotiations, says Professor American University of Beirut Imad Salamey. “This is a prelude to a potential violation by the Syrian regime, the Geneva agreement on the ceasefire, — he admits. — The Assad regime now overdose Iranian-Russian assistance, it’s offensive crush”. Arguing his position, Salama refers, inter alia, on the reluctance of the delegation from Damascus to discuss the transfer of power from the hands of Assad.

Approved in December 2015 the UN security Council resolution on Syria has elections in the country within one and a half years — the elections should take place after the adoption of the new Constitution and under the control of the UN.

Syrian foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that the question of the resignation of President al-Assad government delegation will be a “red line” beyond which further negotiations are impossible. “Despite the fact that a full political solution that would change power in Syria is a desirable goal, it is now virtually unattainable. If the opposition insist on this, it is guaranteed to wreck the negotiations and are likely to lead to a resumption of fighting. The risk of negotiations in Geneva that the opposition and those who support it can make the “best” (the departure of Assad) the enemy of the “good” (of extension of truce), but in the end everything will end “the worst” — a resurgence of violence without any real plans on stopping them,” said The Financial Times, former adviser to Barack Obama on the Middle East, member of the Board for International Affairs Philip Gordon.

According to the Kremlin, in a telephone conversation with Putin, Assad himself also expressed hope that the talks would lead to “concrete results”. But so far, according to the Geneva-Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, consultations are “difficult”. The UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura on Monday also asked journalists to refrain from premature optimism.

Restrained reaction

Western leaders still cautiously praised Moscow’s decision. Washington Moscow’s decision on the withdrawal has not yet officially commented on. As stated by White house press Secretary Josh earnest, the Obama administration will examine the intentions of the Kremlin in this matter. He only said that the U.S. position has not changed, and in Washington continue to believe that Russia was carrying out in Syria militarily to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The European Union also produces position. “We need more information,” said Catherine ray, the official representative of the EU high representative for foreign policy Federica Mogherini.

But German foreign Minister Frank-Walter stanmeyer expressed hope that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Syria will put pressure on the President of the Arab Republic Bashar al-Assad in the negotiations for a peaceful settlement.
“If the statement on withdrawal of Russian troops will be implemented, it will increase pressure on the regime [of Syrian President Bashar] Assad, for final and serious negotiations in Geneva on political transition period”, — said Steinmeier.

“Putin said that the Russian objectives in Syria achieved. It seems that the strikes on ISIS have never been Russia’s goal. Hmm,” commented on Twitter the Director of the program on terrorism Washington Institute for near East policy Matthew Levitt. A similar reaction was provoked by the decision of Putin and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. “I was in Asia for a week. What Russia won the LIH, while I was gone?” he said also on Twitter.

The main goal of Putin, whom he persecuted before the start of the military operation in Syria, was a fashion — to force the West to speak with him on equal terms, says Khramchikhin. “This goal was met. We could observe that the resolution of the Syrian problem were engaged in only two countries — Russia and USA” — sums up the expert.

When Elizaveta Antonova, Catherine Markhulia, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Farida Rustamova, Ilya Rozhdestvensky