In Chronique du Grand Jeu, March 15, 2016
Translated from French by Tom Winter
By announcing the withdrawal of a part of the Russian force in Syria, Putin has once more taken the world by surprise. And already the commentaries are streaming in, be they amazed, dumbfounded, or cynical.
Some ask “Why?” and “Why now?” since Russia and her allies are in full momentum as they say in Rugby, and in full winning momentum. It’s for certain that the Russian intervention has considerably changed the facts on and around the ground, and rarely has as much been achieved with so little (fewer than 50 airplanes, a trifle after all). But all the same, why stop on such a succeeding course, why not put on another layer?
True, the official explanations — “the objectives have been completely met,” and it “will stimulate the peace process” aren’t but halfway convincing.
Let those lines about “Russia is going broke” or Putin is abandoning Assad” go for laughs.
More interesting are the attempts at explanation that suppose a deal with the US, i.e. that the US , for its part, would veto any Turkish or Saudi intervention. Or even some secret deal with Riyadh along the lines of “I stop bombing your rebels, and you restrict your oil production to make the price go up.”
But there, too, the doubt remains: The Saudo-turks could not at all intervene, at risk of open war with Russia, which would turn out quite badly for them.
Beyond putting Russia at the center of the peace negotiations, there is a perhaps (but who knows with this devil of a man?) a much more simple explanation for Putin’s decision. The choice of words should be examined with care: “The withdrawal of the greater part of the Russian forces in Syria” + “The Russian naval and air bases at Latakia and Tartus will continue to operate normally.”
Numerically, the main body of troops consists of an infantry battalion to protect the airbase as well as advisers and, no doubt, some Russian special forces there on the ground.
Now that the military situation has been turned around and the Latakia Province has been secured, all the tasks can be assured by the Syrian Army or their allied militia.
But planes, ships, and the air defense systems will stay, which is obviously the only thing that counts in the military planning. The Russian president’s announcement will thus be a non-event, aimed at opinion at home, but will change nothing about the state of forces on the ground.
*This is the original headline, needing no translation.
To be noted also: Many of the phrases in this opinion piece are exactly the same as in a longer piece in Novorossia Today by Valeria Smakhtina, which I will also translate. After supper.
The longer piece from Novorossia Today is here.