Once more, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has surprised almost all observers by announcing that as of tomorrow, he is withdrawing most of his forces from Syria. Russia Today has the official English-language writeup:
“I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished. That is why I order to start withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow,”Putin said on Monday during a meeting with Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
To control the observation of ceasefire agreements in the region, Moscow will keep its Khmeimim airbase in Latakia province and a base at the port of Tartus, Putin said.At Moscow’s initiative, a phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Syria’s President Bashar Assad was held on Monday evening, the Kremlin reported.
Given the complexities and murkiness of the Syrian war—and the tendency of the Russian President to dissemble, especially when it comes to military matters—it’s nearly impossible to know just how much Russia’s presence will be diminished overall. But what the announcement does show us, once again, is that Putin is a quick mover, always thinking on his feet, always improvising.President Obama has on several instances predicted that Syria would become Russia’s Iraq—a bloody quagmire which Putin would regret as much as Soviet leaders came to rue Afghanistan. That prediction is, alas, not likely to pan out. There are several important differences between Syria and Iraq that Obama seems to have glossed over when he made his prediction. In Iraq, the Bush Administration couldn’t find anybody willing and able to govern the country. The United States had to slog through some painful years while an Iraqi government slowly took shape. In Syria,