Putin Changes History Again with Syria Withdrawal Announcement

March 16, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement, Monday, of the partial Russian military withdrawal from Syria, indicates that Russia has now shifted, fully, into supporting the peace process that the military intervention, along with determined diplomacy, helped to bring about. The Kremlin transcript of the meeting between Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demonstrates as much.

Shoigu reported that during the campaign, the Russian air contingent had flown over 9,000 missions and that the military had demonstrated, for the first time, the capability of carrying out "massive strikes with dispersed weaponry at a distance of over 1,500 kilometers using both air- and sea-based missiles." More important was the effect: terrorist operations in Syria were significantly hindered by the cutting of their oil smuggling to, and supply lines from, Turkey; government control was re-established over large areas of Syria; and, Shoigu said, more than 2,000 "criminals" from Russia were eliminated on Syrian territory. "In total, with support from our air force, the Syrian troops liberated 400 towns and over 10,000 square kilometers of territory," Shoigu said. "We have had a significant turning point in the fight against terrorism."

"[o]ur Aerospace Forces operation helped create conditions for the political process," Lavrov said. "We have consistently advocated establishing an intra-Syrian dialogue in accordance with the decisions made in 2012. Our suggestions were met with a lack of will on the part of all our partners working on this process. But since the start of the operations by our Aerospace Forces, the situation began to change."

Putin fully agreed. "The truly effective work by our troops has created conditions to start the peace process," he said. "I feel that the objectives set before the Defense Ministry and the Russian Armed Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic have generally been fulfilled." Then came the part that no one in the West apparently expected. "I feel that the objective set before the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces is generally fulfilled, so I order the Defence Ministry to begin withdrawing the main part of our military group from the Syrian Arab Republic, beginning tomorrow," he said. "I ask the Foreign Ministry to intensify the Russian Federation's participation in organizing the peace process to resolve Syria's problems. At the same time, our base points — our maritime base in Tartus and our aviation base at the Hmeymim airbase — will function as before. They must be protected securely from land, sea and air."

In other words, Putin has ordered a reconfiguration of the Russian military presence in Syria to support what is now a peace effort, in which Russia will remain fully engaged, and a continuing war on ISIS and al Nusra.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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