The Russian Reversal: Why Would Putin Withdraw From Syria?

On Monday, March 14th, President Vladimir Putin announced rather suddenly that significant portions of the Russian expedition to Syria would be withdrawing.

Russia’s base in Latakia will not be closing, and the Kremlin has left open the possibility of returning the forces at a later date.

But a return of large scale Russian participation in the Syrian Civil War seems unlikely, due to the motive behind the initial deployment, the balance of power on the ground, and Russia’s risk averse nature due to its precarious military structure and capabilities as previously reported on by RISE NEWS.

Contrary to the claims of Kremlin mouthpieces and sympathizers, Russian airstrikes have been largely concentrated against the International Coalition backed FSA in the West of Syria, which is largely devoid of Islamic State forces.

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As such, it is safe to assume that the Russian objective is to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, who could be indicted for crimes against humanity due to his use of chemical weapons“massive and systematised violence” against Syrian civilians, and the death by torture of at least ten foreign nationals.

As long as Assad remains in power, he stays out of the Hague, and this guarantees a continued Russian naval base in the Mediterranean Sea.

With the existing balance of power in Syria shifting towards the Assad regime, it is no longer necessary for the Kremlin to take such an active interest in the Syrian Civil War. As a result, the Kremlin gains a few things.

First, Western interests in Syrian Regime change are thwarted, giving the impression of significant Russian influence in the Middle East for the first time since the Yom Kippur War.

Second, the eventual conclusion of Russia’s involvement in Syria will make the argument for Putin as a benevolent actor easier for far right sympathizers like Le Pen, Farage, and Trump, by appealing to Putin’s supposed role in the eventual defeat of Islamic State. Lastly, a significant portion of Russia’s professional forces will no longer be tied down, which will give the Kremlin greater flexibility in influencing policy closer to Moscow.

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Photo Credit: Sergey Vladimirov (CC by 2.0)

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About the Author
"John Massey has a B.A. in political science and history from the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory. "
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