Another unexpected move by Vladimir Putin as he orders the withdrawal of the Russian forces in Syria.
“I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished. That is why I order to start withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow,” Putin said on Monday during a meeting with Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“In a short period of time Russia has created a small but very effective military group in Syria. The effective work of our military forces allowed the peace process to begin,” Putin said, adding that “Russian government troops and [Syria’s] patriotic forces have changed the situation in the fight with international terrorism and have ceased the operation.”
To know if the objectives have been achieved, we need first to recall what they were. Putin clearly set out the purpose of the Russian intervention on October 11th, when he declared the following in an interview with Vladimir Soloviev on the TV channel Russia 1:
“Our objective is to stabilise the legitimate authority and create conditions for a political compromise.”
Last December at another press conference, Putin said that Russian operation in Syria would not last forever, and defined condition for its termination: “When we see that the convergence process (between moderate opposition and official Damascus) begins, the political process begins, when the Syrian army and Syrian leadership believes that everyone should stop shooting and start negotiating, from that point forward we are not going to be bigger Syrians than the Syrians themselves”, he said, adding that“the sooner this happens the better.”
Well, it has, so it´s job done. Putin got involved in order to give peace a chance in Syria, and – in accordance with his doctrine about the definition and responsibilities of great powers – that´s exactly what the Russian intervention has done.
Russia now has the moral high ground in a way that is unique in decades of international politicking. Personally, Putin has made the clear transition from Strong Man to international Statesman.
Vladimir Putin and the Russian military should be particularly praised for having set goals fully commensurate with their real capabilities. The Russians went in with a small force and they achieved limited goals: the legitimate authority of the Syrian government has been stabilized and the conditions for a political compromise have been created.
That is not an opinion, but the facts on the ground. Not even the worst Putin-haters can dispute that. Yesterday´s declaration shows that the Russians are also sticking to their initial exit strategy and are now confident enough to withdraw their forces.
That said, it worth paying close attention to exactly what Putin said: “I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defence Ministry to be generally accomplished.” The key word is “generally”. He is saying is that the goals set out initially have not been fully/perfectly reached. In other words, this leaves the door open for a “objectives completion” operation. The progress made will not be thrown away.
The second interesting moment in today’s statement is that Putin added that “to control the observation of ceasefire agreements in the region, Moscow will keep its Khmeimim airbase in Latakia province and a base at the port of Tartus”.
In other words, not only will Russia continue to supply the Syrians with hardware, training, intelligence and special operations and, second, they will retain the option of using military power if/when needed. If the Saudis start re-equipping their proxy forces in Syria, or if any of the moderate-ish groups which have joined the ceasefire go back to war against anyone other than Daesh and Al Nusra, they will be obliterated.
Not only will Russia retain the capability to strike from the Caspian, the Mediterranean or with her long-range bombers, but she will surely leave enough pre-positioned supplies and personnel in Tartus, Khmeimim and elsewhere in Syria to be ready to intervene at very short notice (say in case of a Turkish attack towards Latakia, for example).
The big advantage of a unilateral decision is that, unlike one taken as part of an agreement with other parties, it can be unilaterally rescinded too. It took the Russian just days to launch their initial operation even though they had to execute it all in difficult conditions and under the cloak of secrecy. How long would it take them to move back into Syria if needed?
So with the stated aims of the short, sharp war all achieved, and with a solid presence remaining to ensure that the progress is not reversed, Putin has moved – as usual – with lightning speed and blinding insight to solidify the gains, avoid potential pitfalls and, perhaps, to leave open a trap for other less capable players to blunder into.
Turkey or Saudi Arabia could fit that bill, perhaps being tempted in, only to come up against the re-equipped Syrian Army, the highly experienced fighters of Hezbollah and, in response to their invasion, the instant reinvolvement of Russian forces, including the navy with its Cruise missiles.
These would be even more effective against masses of convention armour than they have been against the Jihadists. And, of course, Russia has a score to settle with Turkey over the murder of the pilot Oleg Peshkov.
Then there are the Americans, who have been saying that their main war aim is to destroy ISIS in Raqqa, and now have all eyes on them to do so. How can they? The easiest way would be to use their air power in conjunction with the Kurdish forces – which the Russian intervention and the brutality of Turkey have pushed firmly into the Assad camp. So such a move would enrage Turkey, putting immense strain on the relationship between Erdogan and Nato.
The halt to the Russian campaign – but the clear point that it could start up again at a moments´notice – applies a great deal of well-intentioned pressure on the Syrian government and its allies, including the Kurds, to continue along the peace road, concentrating their minds on the need for compromises and the lasting political solution which is the only thing that can bring the lasting peace the country needs.
For Turkey or the Saudis to invade now would not only be a reckless military gamble, it would also be a Public Relations disaster, for their US sponsors as well as them. So the odds are that it won´t happen, leaving the united Syrian and allied forces to steadily grind down the now inferior Islamist forces.
On the subject of PR, there is surely another important factor in Putin´s decision: Public opinion and likely events in Europe. The moment the Mediterranean sea calms down as spring brings settled weather, the ´refugee´ flood will start up again, several times worse than last year.
For the last few weeks, the West´s controlled media has been building up a campaign to blame “Russian bombing in Syria” for this. Even though only a minority of the refugees are in fact Syria, the charge would surely have begun to stick as the crisis explodes once again.
So Putin has neatly sidestepped this threat, thereby keeping Western public opinion onside as he presses to resolve other problems, such as the sanctions that resulted from the Nato-backed coup in Ukraine.
The blame for the coming renewed ´refugee´ flood will now fall not on Russia but firmly where it truly belongs: On Turkey and on the US puppet regimes of Western Europe, particularly Frau Merkel, and on Brussels.
Having got what was needed and right in Syria, Putin is now positioning himself to get what is needed and right in Europe – regime change which produces a shift to governments which do not slavishly follow the Washington line and which see Russia as an economic partner to be valued rather than a Cold or Hot War opponent to be attacked.
In that regard, Putin knows – as do the intelligence services of every Western nation – that, sooner rather than later, the ISIS and al Qaeda cells that have infiltrated Europe in their thousands will ´get through´ with more Paris-style mass casualty attacks, if not with something very much worse.
With Russia no longer involved in the fighting in Syria, it will be absolutely impossible for Western propagandists to blame Putin, still less to claim that in some way it is Russia´s responsibility to sort it out.
Some of those carrying them out will inevitably have entered Europe among Mutti Merkel´s ´refugees´.
When that happens, the pressure for regime change within the EU, and pushing the Visegrad4 nations of central Europe even more firmly to a pro-Russian and anti-EU position, will become enormous.
There is a real possibility that the result could transform, if not destroy, the whole Europhile project.
Who´s going to finish ISIS?
In addition, the pressure on the West to take truly effective military action against ISIS in Raqqa will become irresistible. Because that demands ground troops as well as air power, that can only mean one of two things:
Either a Nato air campaign run as effectively as the Russian one, but in conjunction with the Syrian and Kurdish forces, or the same Nato air campaign run in conjunction with a ground invasion of north east Syria by US troops.
The first outcome would be a triumph for Syria and Russia.
As for the second, the Syrian government would, naturally, be outraged and we would join with them in that outrage. But from a Big Politics point of view, it is a masterstroke for Putin to leave the door open for the USA either to be seen to fail to take action and to leave it to Syria and her allies, or to blunder in and be bogged down in a ground war against the Jihadist forces that Washington and its cronies helped create and unleash in the first place.
Very few people actually live in the desert of north eastern Syria. Some of those who do are Wahhabised Sunni fanatics who really don´t fit in with rebuilding secular, democratic Syria anyway, so for America and its former Wahhabi friends to expend their energies kicking the hell out of each other there would not be of great importance – except to American (and their allies) families taking delivery of body bags.
Sooner or later the Americans would leave, having been forced to undo at least some of the damage they did when they decided that the establishment of an ISIS Caliphate there was a good idea as a way of applying ´pressure´ on the Assad government. It´s not ideal in terms of Syrian sovereignty, but it would be a form of restorative justice.
All-in-all, the move brings to a close a brave and effective intervention, but it is only the beginning of a new phase of the struggle between what, for short-hand purposes, is best described as the New World Order, and the forces of the global resistance, led by Russia.
Just two or three years ago, the NWO appeared to be an unbeatable giant, whose total victory was only a matter of time. How things have changed! Today, more than ever, the giant is seen to be stumbling around with feet of clay, while its still smaller but nimble and skilled opponent outclasses it at every turn.
And the best thing of all? The side that is winning now isn´t merely the better fighter, it is also fighting on the side of justice, peace and freedom.