Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he is pulling the main part of his armed forces out of Syria caught the world flat-footed. Putin’s word is not to be highly valued given his claims of no troops in Ukraine. He may not carry through as promised, but the announcement alone gives him the following domestic and foreign policy wins in descending order of importance:
First, the Russian air attack on rebel forces has saved, at least for the time being, Putin’s most important Middle East client, the Assad regime, from almost certain defeat.
Second, Europe will likely reward Russia for its Syrian “peace keeping” by lifting sanctions and returning to business as usual with Russia. The Obama administration may likewise ease up on punishing Russian aggression in Ukraine as a reward for Putin’s cease fire “intermediation.” In doing so, the United States and Europe will throw the collapsing Russian economy a lifeline at a time when domestic discontent is reaching a boiling point in advance of Russia’s 2016 elections.
Third, by saving the Assad regime, Putin shows that popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes (a la Maidan) will not be tolerated, particularly in a country that falls within his “zone of influence.” Putin’s lesson applies most of all to pre-election Russia. Salvation of the Assad regime also teaches that Putin stands by his allies. The West does not.
Sixth, Russia’s “partial withdrawal” leaves behind air force, naval infrastructure and service personnel to secure Russian military transit in the vital Middle East region. This ready infrastructure allows Russian forces to return with little or no preparation or further investment. Russia does not need ground forces because they are supplied by proxy Iranian and Hezbollah troops.
Ninth, Russia has gained a propaganda victory both at home and abroad. Russian state media claim that Russia’s intervention in Syria cleaned up the mess made by Western powers in the area. Only Russia could bring Assad to the negotiating table. As stated by one Russian political analyst: “In a political sense, Russia has shown itself to be the genuine peace maker. In this light, the Western powers are compromised insofar as their anti-terrorist operations turned out to be without results.” Russian media speak of “Vladimir the Peace Maker” and have coined the phrase “Blitz peace.”Tenth, the impression that Putin has again outsmarted the U.S., despite President Barack Obama‘s protestations, will work to the advantage of a Republican nominee who criticizes the foreign policy failures of the past seven years. Putin’s Syria gambit could contribute to the election of his favorite candidate, Donald Trump.
Vladimir Putin has killed ten birds with one stone with his six-month intervention in Syria, even though Syria was a sideshow to his main operations – his hybrid war against Ukraine and his undermining of NATO and the European Union. Western ineptitude is not entirely to blame. The Russian bombing was successful because of its indiscriminate nature. Western forces must act with a degree of moral restraint.
Full article: Ten Reasons Why Putin Wins Big In Syria While The U.S. Gets Nothing (Forbes)