Those who hoped that President Vladimir Putin’s Syria withdrawal announcement earlier this week meant that Russia was thinking of washing its hands of the whole bloody mess got a surprise today. The Wall Street Journal:
Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged on Thursday to continue providing military aid and intelligence to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, declaring that Russian warplanes could redeploy to Syria at any moment.
“If it is needed, Russia is capable of boosting its numbers of its presence in Syria literally in a few hours, depending on the situation, and use the full power of our capabilities,” Mr. Putin said in an address to Russian military personnel who served in Syria.
Observers have suggested all sorts of motives for the pullback: that the withdrawal was part of a signaling ritual—a ceremonial gesture of goodwill that Putin seems to relish engaging in in whenever he is tangentially involved with peace talks; that even at $477 million, a small fraction of Russia’s annual military budget, the operation was proving too costly at current oil prices; or that the Russian military, however flush with cash after years of lavish investment by the Kremlin, still has a lack of experience in operating this far from home, and that it was an opportune time for the planes to head back for a round of thorough repairs.
(Or perhaps it wasn’t a concrete reason at all? For someone like Putin, a man trained in counterintelligence by the KGB, perhaps the most appealing rationale for the move would be how it has once again allowed him to throw most of the world’s analysts for a loop.)
Putin’s work here is far from done…