Russia announces partial withdrawal from Syria

On a visit to Syria on Monday President Putin announced plans to withdraw most of Russia's soldiers from the country, pointing out that the Russian and Syrian army had jointly destroyed most of the terrorists in Syria. Soldiers will remain stationed at the air base in Hmeymim and the naval facility in Tartus. What does the announcement mean for the region?

Open/close all quotes
Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Why full withdrawal won't happen

Putin has good reasons for withdrawing the troops but Russian soldiers will continue to play a key role in Syria, writes Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-critical radio station Echo of Moscow:

“Putin has understood that a Vietnam syndrome could develop among the Russian forces. He made the right decision, because you can't fight terrorists by military means. ... The problem is that the Syrian operation has two components: the fight against terrorists and support for the Assad regime. Therefore I believe that relatively large army units and military bases will remain in the country. ... First of all the counter-terrorist forces will remain, i.e. intelligence teams and special units, and secondly military units that could come to President Assad's aid if worst comes to worst will also remain in place.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

A clever and typically Putinesque ploy

For La Repubblica the whole action is nothing but a pseudo withdrawal:

“A gesture for the media, broadcast exclusively by Russia Today, the obedient multilingual TV channel that does propaganda and disinformation for the Kremlin. Back in March Putin announced the withdrawal of troops and nothing happened. Now he says that the IS has been defeated and the time for UN diplomacy has come. What he's not saying is that the Russia-Iran-Turkey trio will be among the first to sabotage the UN and its patient negotiator Staffan de Mistura. He is also keeping quiet about the fact that Russian soldiers are refusing to give UN aid convoys access in Syria - on all kinds of pretexts. He also isn't saying that the Russian military bases are being cleared. Because they will remain where they are to guarantee Moscow's full military - and by extension political - control.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Mission nowhere near accomplished

The fight for dominance in Syria is simply entering the next round, De Telegraaf also believes:

“The real goal of the Russians was to secure the regime. This they achieved, even though it cost many lives and the land was left in ruins. ... Assad is officially still president, but in fact he is subject to the will of Russia and Iran. And the interests of these two countries are increasingly at variance. ... The battle for dominance in the Syria of the future is by no means over. Moscow has invested a lot of money and troops in the last two years to expand its power in the country and in the rest of the Middle East. It won't put all that in jeopardy with a quick withdrawal.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

A powder keg with a burning fuse

Syria and the surrounding region have all the ingredients for the next - even bigger - conflict, Deutschlandfunk concludes:

“Iran is growing more and more powerful and is sending its revolutionary guards and weapons to Syria. With Hezbollah's help, a war against Israel is to be started from there and from Lebanon. ... Iran and Saudi Arabia are struggling for regional dominance in a power struggle between Shiites and Sunnis, and at the centre of it all is Syria. ... What's more, the Kurdish referendum in Iraq has also brought Turkey into the fray. A Kurdistan that stretches across Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi territory is a nightmare for President Erdoğan. The situation is confusing and explosive, with heavily equipped armies and nuclear weapons also in play. ... If this powder keg explodes, the Syrian refugee crisis will seem like child's play in comparison.”

Kainuun Sanomat (FI) /

Putin pulling the strings in the Middle East

Kainuun Sanomat speculates on Putin's plans to give his country more clout in the Middle East as a whole:

“Last week President Trump surprised the world with the announcement that he was recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Putin's announcement that he is withdrawing troops from Syria is just as surprising. Trump's announcement meant that the US no longer has any chance of acting as a mediator in any way in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps Putin has realised that Russia has the opportunity to play a stronger role here - also as mediator. And perhaps his moving on [from Syria] directly to Egypt was part of this process? Putin of course knows that a Syria solution is only possible if Assad is deposed in a civilised manner. At the same time, however, the country must be prevented from splitting up into regions that are in conflict with each other.”