On Monday, Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to start withdrawal the Russian air group from Syria the following day as it had completed its assigned tasks.
Commenting on Putin’s order, Faisal Devji, a New York-based historian from the University of Oxford, said that the crucial lesson to be learned from this decision was that the Russian leader did not believe in zero-sum games.
“His [Putin’s] task was not simply to have a strategy with a clearly defined exit, unlike Western interventions… but also to create a situation on the ground in Syria such that a genuine negotiation between opposing forces and thus a real political transition became possible,” Devji highlighted.
All the objectives set for Moscow’s participation in anti-terror fight in Syria have been successfully achieved, which led to a logical pullout of the bulk of the Russian contingent from the Arab state, former adviser on Russia to French National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Leroy stressed.
“Undoubtedly, we can say that this is a turning point in the war and that the goals that were set by Vladimir Putin have been achieved,” Leroy, a prominent French political scientist, said.
Russia managed to defend a legitimate government of Syria within the framework of international law, stopped the advance of jihadists to Iraq’s Baghdad and Syria’s Latakia, struck a severe blow to the terrorists, preventing the Arab republic from becoming a hub of the international terrorism, Leroy outlined.
He added that Russia’s involvement in Syria had helped the country to “show to the West that the Russian bear has not lost its claws, they even get much sharper.”
Describing how the military campaign in Syria benefited Russia, Leroy suggested that Moscow’s image on the international arena had been improved.
“It also showed that it [Russia] has a remarkable technological breakthrough in the field of cyberwarfare, which probably helped to cool the ardor of the neoconservatives in the United States and the whole clan [of] warmongering fanatics like [US Senator John] McCain or [presidential candidate Hillary] Clinton.”
Terrorism and security expert at the University of Alberta, Thomas Butko, shared his opinion on Putin’s aims in Syria by claiming that, “If a key demand of Russia was [that Syrian President Bashar] Assad remains in power, and it doesn’t appear that Assad is going anywhere now, Russia has achieved its primary aim, and would in fact welcome peace in the area.”
Looking into the consequences of Russia’s withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country, Noomane Raboudi, a Syria expert at the University of Ottawa, suggested that Putin had understood that this was going to be a very long and bloody conflict, and did not want to be mired in it endlessly.
“[Nevertheless] he [Putin] will stay watching the situation from outside and…from time to time he will intervene every time the equilibrium of power is threatened,” Raboudi stated.
Devji further clarified that Russia did not support the Syrian government in its push to retake all or even part of Aleppo, but instead put it in a position where it would have to arrive at an agreement with at least some of its enemies, and in this way reestablish a legitimate state on the basis of a genuine compromise, as opposed to “politics of vendetta that followed regime change in Iraq or the anarchy that followed it in Libya.”
Butko observed that Russia’s decision on the pullout was linked to the country’s belief that Assad’s position is now strong enough to withstand any counterattacks by the opposition, which seemed to be rather divided and weakened at this point.
“Whatever one may think of the means or details of Russia’s foreign policy, it should be clear that it isn’t based on a winner-takes-all principle. In Russia’s case this appears to be the effort to prevent the erosion of state sovereignty in the global arena and so remake politics itself in the international order,” Devji pointed out.
Summing up the general outcomes of the Russian actions in Syria, he indicated that there was no battle between rival ideologies there, nor irredentism of any serious kind, but rather the return of great power politics, and, consequently, of political pluralism to the global arena.
Butko also suggested that the pullout from Syria would further help improve Russia’s relations with the West. Raboudi goes as far as to suggest that it seemed to be the result of a non-declared agreement between the Russian and US sides.
Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces, fighting numerous opposition factions and radical Islamists. The conflict has inflicted damage to the country’s economy and precipitated a humanitarian disaster.