Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced plans to withdraw the country’s forces from Syria, stating that they have completed their objectives in the war. This was originally announced by Russian state-run news agency Sputnikand reported by CNN on Monday.
The withdraw from Syria is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
“I think that the task that was assigned to the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces as a whole has achieved its goal, and so I order the defense minister to start tomorrow withdrawing the main part of our military factions from the Syrian Arab Republic,” Sputnik quoted Putin as saying.
The Russian military first arrived in Syria in support of the Assad regime in their fight against the ISIS and the other rebel groups.
Russian forces in Syria consist of 30 bomber and fighter aircraft, minus one lost to Turkish forces when the jet supposedly violated Turkish airspace.
According to VICE, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) released a report that Russian airstrikes have been responsible for 4,000 civilian deaths, 300 of those being children, which could constitute a war crime.
“The Russian armed forces appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military objective and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” an Amnesty International report said. “In others, they seem to have attacked military objectives and civilian objects without distinction, or caused disproportionate harm to civilians when striking military targets. Such attacks may constitute war crimes.”
Russia’s involvement in Syria has been abrupt if anything. Russian war planes arrived in Syria almost overnight in September shocking the international community with the stealthiness of their approach, not to mention the secrecy of action. Now, they are leaving the day after their announcement to leave. Putin stated in a Kremlin meeting:
“The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process,” he said. “I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled.”
Russia and the United States were successful in brokering a ceasefire between warring parties in Syria in late February, deliberately excluding ISIS and al Nusra Front. This period of time has been the most peaceful in the country since the war began five years ago, leaving 300,000 dead, and 11 million displaced in one of the largest refugee crises since the second world war.
Russia will continue to support government forces in Syria despite the withdraw of the main contingent of their force. But this will leave the Assad regime severely lacking in air support. The USA Today‘s analysis of the situation is that Putin would like to put increasing pressure on the government to make peace. Assad has been notoriously stubborn about making any kind of concessions toward the individual warring groups in the area. Russia has been able to turn the tide of war in favor of Syrian government troops. Once they lose the support of Russian air support, they may be forced to find other allies in moderate militia groups who also oppose the Islamic State. The asymmetric conditions of the war are one of the reasons that no one group has seen much success against ISIS apart from Kurdish forces.
In a Reuters op-ed, Josh Cohen makes the argument the Russia has come out as the winner in Syria. With Washington back troops in the Free Syrian Army situated along the Turkish border and squeezed between the Assad and the Islamic State, the United States will have to make decision to back Assad rather than waste its investment in its militias. Putin had it worked out that U.S. would have to side with someone and that it would be the Syrian government. This means that the U.S. would have to take a more proactive role for peace and acknowledge Russia’s importance.
Russia also establish air dominance over Turkish airspace along the border and sent 200 troops to reinforce YPG forces in an effort to legitimize the Kurdish control Syrian territories claimed by the YPG, as well as establish their control of the Turkish border on the ground.
The quick, confusing, and often brutal efforts of Russia in Syria have been a stabilizing force in the time since they’ve been a military influence. They have forced agreements and support for the strongest militias while creating a situation where Assad must find common ground with some of his people to eliminate the real threat, which is ISIS.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]