On March 14 Russia announced its troops will soon be pulled out of Syria – the military operation launched on Sept. 30 of last year at the request of the president Bashar al-Assad, is near completion. Russia has made every effort to normalize the situation in a country that has been engulfed in chaos for the last five years.
Everything fell into place to make such a step feasible: the new peace treaty between Assad’s government troops and the opposition forces, which was brokered by Russia and the US on Feb. 27; the successful advances made by Syrian troops (including the opposition and the Kurds); and the government’s recapture of some regions formerly held by Daesh and Jabhat Al Nusra terrorists. Thus, the Russian military’s goals for its operations have been met.
Since Sept. 30, 2015, when the Russian president ordered Russia’s Aerospace Forces to launch strikes against Daesh and other terrorist groups, whole provinces have been liberated from the militants; people who until recently were planning to set off for Europe have now decided to stay home; and there is now hope for peace. This hope has been inspired not only by the success of the Russian pilots who carried out dozens of sorties each day, but also the success of the diplomats who finally – and only after Russia’s intervention – called attention to the problem of the global terrorist threat that the Russian president had warned the West about back in 2007 at the Munich Security Conference. As we know, at that time his words were simply ignored.
However, it was not possible to ignore the military operations of the Russian troops: despite the perfunctory efforts of the Western coalition led by the United States to combat Daesh (they launched that operation back in August 2014) and the active intervention of Saudi Arabia, both of those forces combined could not halt the advance of the terrorists- on the contrary, militants managed to seize more and more Syrian territory. The real fight against terrorism on Syrian soil began only on Sept. 30 of last year, after President Bashar al-Assad asked Russia to help support the government forces’ ground operations. Since then, the West has recognized, albeit reluctantly, the Russians’ decisive contribution to the normalization of the situation in the country.
Given these circumstances, we naturally have no intention of getting deeply entangled in this conflict. We will act strictly in accordance with our set mission. First, we will support the Syrian army only in its lawful fight against terrorist groups. Second, our support will be limited to airstrikes and will not involve ground operations. Third, our support will have a limited timeframe and will continue only while the Syrian army conducts its anti-terrorist offensive. – Vladimir Pitin, Sept 30, 2015.
Looking back at the statements made by the Russian authorities and military commanders regarding the timetable for their military operation in Syria, their main objectives were to strike an unequivocal blow to the heart of international terrorism there and to set the stage for a dialog between Syria’s warring parties – the government army and the “moderate” opposition. Now that the terrorists are losing control of Syrian towns almost every day and rebels massively surrendering to the legitimate goverment, the military aims are certainly met. Creating conditions for political dialog is also in place. In addition, each day more and more towns – currently over 100 – are laying down their weapons and honoring the cease fire. Most recently the civilians can safely return home without risking their lives to Bir Abu Ali, Wadi za Zaydi, Nahtah, Atbah, Darayya and Tell Maraq.
All in all during 5,5 months of air strikes the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out more than 9000 flights, 26000 terrorist insfrustructure objects were hit. Among them: 2584 communication and command units, 401 training camps, 181 munition plants, 2043 munition and fuel depots, 9318 fortifications of all types, 287 oil infrustructure objests, 2912 oil tank trucks. 400 towns and over 10,000 square kilometres of territory liberated by the SAA. Province of Latakia completely freed, communications with Aleppo restored. Palmyra is under siege, control over its oil and gas fields reestablished. Most of the provinces of Hama and Homs cleared, Kweires airbase unblocked. Total number of the Russian personnel casualties during the operation: 5 (originally the number was 3; on the awarding ceremony on March 17 Vladimir Putin revealed the name of the fourth, previously unknown casualty – Fedor Zhuravlev, a spetsnaz officer; on March 24 it is announced that another spetsnaz officer, Alexander Prokhorenko, who called an airstrike on himself in the outskirts of Palmyra when facing capture by Daesh militants.)
After so many years, the process for a national reconciliation in Syria has finally begun, as evidenced by the work of all the stakeholders to draw up a collaborative draft of the country’s new constitution. In addition, the warring parties are increasingly convening in the Syrian provinces to discuss immediate problems and to hammer out a development strategy for the republic. It would have been possible to accomplish long ago, and with fewer civilian casualties, if the fight against terrorism, under which pretext the West invaded the borders of a sovereign state, had actually been the ultimate goal.
Russia is pulling out, having fulfilled its duty not only to the Syrian people, but also to the global community. It is now time for the West and its allies to amicably find a way to continue the work to resolve this situation. The Americans and the Saudis – who have a strong interest in holding the upper hand in the Middle East – have already realized what playing games with terrorists will do to their reputations. By withdrawing its troops, Russia is allowing the Americans and their partners to save face – just as they did in 2013 when Obama was gearing up to bomb Damascus. And the signs are that this time his presidential administration will not take that risk.
What consequences will we see from the Russian president’s order?
1) There is no reason to expect the Syrian Arab Republic’s military position to weaken. The equipment supplied by Russia, the two military bases (one naval and one air), and the remnant of the Aerospace Forces left behind to monitor the cease fire, plus the Russian military advisers, will all stay where they are. Daesh’s infrastructure has largely been destroyed and a cease fire secured.
2) Negotiations between Russia and the US are looming, and judging by the reaction of the White House, the withdrawal of the main body of the Russian forces came as a total shock.
3) The propaganda machine that has been busily warning Europe how “Russia is driving refugees into the EU” has suddenly conked out – just like the entire strategy for “covering” the Syrian conflict by the global media, whose reporters have exhibited shameless political bias in recent months.