Russia pulls out of Syria

Russia has begun its partial withdrawal from Syria but its naval base in Tartus and its air base in Latakia will remain in operation. Some commentators say President Vladimir Putin's 'surprise' announcement was a logical step since he has achieved all his military objectives. Others speculate that Putin has withdrawn solely for domestic reasons.

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Delfi (LT) /

Putin's military not strong enough

Russia's partial withdrawal can be explained by its military weaknesses, journalist Ramūnas Bogdanas writes on the online portal Delfi:

“The Kremlin has understood that it won't achieve anything through military means. Many people, including myself, predicted that Syria would be for Russia what Afghanistan was for the Soviets. Apparently Moscow felt that it was being roped into the conflict and said stop. ... The Russian equipment is 30 years old and very imprecise. Pilots are forced to fly at a maximum height of 5,000 metres, making them, together with the helicopters, potential targets for portable air defence systems. The Americans use smart bombs and attack from a height of 8,000 metres. ... The ceasefire was introduced for two weeks on March 1. On the last day Vladimir Putin decided not to run any risks.”

The Economist (GB) /

Syria will spur Putin on to new adventures

President Putin will continue to carry out military operations abroad as long as Russia is strong enough, the conservative weekly The Economist warns:

“Yet, Syria shows how, when Mr Obama stands back in the hope that regional leaders will stop free-riding on American power and work together for the collective good, the vacuum is filled by disrupters like Iran and IS, and by Russia in its search for the next source of propaganda. ... Eventually, deep Russian decline will limit its aggression. For the time being, however, a nuclear-armed Mr Putin is bent on imposing himself in the old Soviet sphere of influence. In Mr Obama’s last year as president, Mr Putin, fresh from Syrian success, could yet test the West one more time.”

Trud (BG) /

Moscow can strike again at any time

Moscow is only pulling some of its troops out of Syria and the infrastructure it is leaving behind will allow it to return with a vengeance at a moment's notice, the daily Trud believes:

“The exact parameters of Russia's military presence in Syria remain unknown, because apart from heroic propaganda Moscow has given no specific details on the number and type of troops it has deployed. ... The Pentagon estimates Russia's military presence in Syria at 3,000 to 6,000 soldiers. According to the Kremlin, 800 to 1,000 soldiers will remain after the withdrawal to provide support to Assad and his air strikes. Thanks to his friends in Damascus and Tehran and the Baghdad headquarters of the eastern anti-IS coalition comprised of Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq, the Kremlin has the necessary logistics in the region to allow it to strike like a bolt from heaven if need be.”

Sme (SK) /

The logic behind Putin's withdrawal

The withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria is a completely logical move from Putin's perspective, the liberal daily Sme comments:

“Putin's goal was above all to prevent the defeat of his brutal client Assad, which for Moscow would mean the loss of its only military base outside the country. … Putin has achieved another goal besides his military objective: he has ended Russia's international isolation. By announcing the withdrawal just as the Geneva peace talks began Putin was intimating that he brought about peace and that that peace can only be consolidated with Russia's help. … The Russians at home are also relieved. This war was never as popular as the adventure in Ukraine. But it enabled Moscow to score a few valuable foreign policy victories and restore its injured pride.”

Hämeen Sanomat (FI) /

Withdrawal internally motivated

The liberal daily Hämeen Sanomat on the other hand believes that the Russian president has ordered the withdrawal merely to reassure his citizens and to remain in power:

“For once Russian President Vladimir Putin has surprised the world positively by announcing that Russian is commencing the withdrawal of its troops from Syria. But the cold shower followed immediately afterwards with the news that Russia intends to continue its air strikes. So once again all the Kremlin’s grand announcements are merely deception. We are not a single step closer to peace in Syria. ... The war is costing Russia a lot. President Putin certainly does not want Syria to become a new Afghanistan. The Russians still have bitter memories of that conflict. Democracy is not a big issue in Russia but Putin must maintain his popularity and at least keep the parliamentary election next autumn a little in mind.”

Kurier (AT) /

Putin acts, Europe hesitates

Putin is calling the shots in the Syria crisis while the West is paralysed, the liberal daily Kurier believes:

“He has chosen the new round of talks in Geneva as the moment to announce Russia’s (partial) military withdrawal. And once again the West can only react rather than act. The reasons lie in the Russian system. 'Tsar' Vladimir couldn’t care less about the democratic rules of play and shapes the world according to his liking. While Europe remains paralysed - and not only in the refugee crisis - US President Obama is being held back by the opposition parliament and in any case is generally a hesitant 'Commander in Chief'. Putin is ruthlessly exploiting this, playing for high stakes – but with a poor hand: the oil price has plummeted, meaning that the country’s main source of income is bringing too little money into the state coffers. The West knows that, of course, but is avoiding a confrontation with the ‘Russian bear’, which has already devoured Crimea and now has an appetite for East Ukraine.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Hope for Geneva talks

Putin's surprise withdrawal from Syria could be constructive for the peace talks in Geneva, the liberal daily NRC Handelsblad comments:

“Russia has forced its way into a key diplomatic role in the broader Middle East and at the negotiating table in Geneva. … But the 'seeing is believing' approach still applies. … Ukraine is the best example: there too, Putin said he wanted to support the peace talks while at the same time he was boosting military backing for the separatists. He remains a cynical power politician whose bombs have cost thousands of lives. But the withdrawal could also bring a welcome de-escalation; an opportunity for the US and Russia to intensify their joint diplomatic efforts. After five years and 250,000 lost lives, the Syrian crisis can now enter a decisive phase.”

Boulevard Voltaire (FR) /

Russia using its military might wisely

Management consultant Ronald Zonca finds words of praise for Russia’s military intervention in Syria in the right-wing online magazine Boulevard Voltaire:

“Russia is prepared to aid states militarily so that they can regain their sovereignty. We are a long way from the neo-colonialist interventions of the West designed to bring puppet governments to power in countries that have become their protectorates. In ordering Russian troops to withdraw from Syria, Vladimir Putin has simply shown that Russia knows how to use its military might to restore the democratic order in a country instead of turning it into a banana republic. In emphasising the principles of international law, which form the basis for the intervention in Syria, and withdrawing its troops, Russia is sending a strong message. The peoples of the world can count on Russia. ”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Putin's main goal was to weaken Nato

With his military operations in Syria Russia's president simply wanted to weaken Turkey and Nato, the liberal news magazine Newsweek Polska writes:

“The war that Putin has been waging for five and a half months in Syria has shown that it will hardly be possible to keep Assad in power in the long term. It has also shown that it makes more sense for Russia to back a different political force in the Middle East: the Kurds, who are fighting for their independence. … The developments are so dynamic that Turkey's position, already undermined by Muslim extremism, is also being weakened within Nato. And this is also decreasing Turkey's chances of joining the EU. Ultimately all Putin really wanted was to weaken both Nato and the EU.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Putin's mission accomplished

Putin is withdrawing from Syria because he believes Russia now exerts sufficient influence in Syria, the centre-left daily Corriere della Sera believes:

“Putin has now claimed the role of umpire. With his military deployment at the end of September he created the conditions for the peace talks and the ceasefire. And now that the bombs have been silenced and the air strikes have restored the equilibrium - of course in Assad's favour - Russia is ready to withdraw to promote peace. It's all too good to be true. ... But couldn't it be that the offensive in Syria had to be scaled down because the high costs have become unbearable for the ailing Russian economy? ... More likely is that a federal or divided Syria that accommodates Russian interests and guarantees a secure protection zone for the government in Damascus is enough for the Kremlin.”

Politiken (DK) /

The West has failed in Syria

Putin's announcement that he is pulling his troops out of Syria makes it clear that the West should have shown more commitment in the conflict, the centre-left daily Politiken comments: When the West enthusiastically proclaims that it supports peaceful demonstrators campaigning for democracy and freedom, it runs the risk of leaving the demonstrators in the lurch when push comes to shove. It's clear that they will take our expressions of sympathy to mean that we would be ready to help them if the occasion arises. The truth is, however, that the West never intended to provide military support to the Syrian opposition. So it's no wonder they feel they've been abandoned. No one knows whether a greater military commitment on the West's part would have led to a better outcome. But what we do know is that we have not followed our words with deeds. This is a harsh lesson: it is morally wrong to encourage others to wage a war that they can only lose if you're not willing to join the fight.