13:04 Mar. 15, 2016
Reasons behind Russia's rapid withdrawal from Syria
Moscow has once again shaken up Syria — this time, by leaving it. Russian President Vladimir Putin, boasting that his military had fulfilled its mission to combat international terrorism, ordered his Defense Ministry to begin the withdrawal of Russian ground forces from the war-torn country starting March 15.
But such an unexpected move raises a larger question over Russian strategy.
Russia intervened in Syria for several reasons. Its stated goal was to fight the Islamic State and other militant groups to which many Russian nationals (and other former Soviet nationals) belong.
Although Russia ended up concentrating the bulk of its attention on rebels fighting the Syrian regime rather than on Islamic State fighters, there is no denying that Russia has indeed contributed to the serious damage inflicted on Islamist militants over the past months.
Haunted by past failures of intervention, Russia also wanted to demonstrate to the world — particularly to the United States — that it could successfully assert itself militarily and politically beyond its borderlands. The Kremlin wanted to have its voice heard.
Putin made the announcement, then, to change the perception of Russia's behavior in Syria. But to what end? Is Moscow positioning itself to arrange a larger bargain — not only in Syria but with the West elsewhere? Full text