Russia’s Withdrawal from Syria Isn’t All That Unexpected

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a Kremlin meeting on March 14, 2016.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a Kremlin meeting on March 14, 2016.

It was never clear exactly what Putin wanted to accomplish, nor how his stay-at-home military was going to do it.

Not quite six months after it began, Russia’s military buildup in Syria may be drawing to a close.

“I consider the mission set for the Defence Ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished,” President Vladimir Putin told government ministers on Monday, the BBC reported. “I am therefore ordering the Defence Ministry to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our military force from the Syrian Arab Republic from tomorrow.”

Still, Putin said, operations at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase and its Mediterranean port at Tartus will continue, the BBC reported. It was not immediately clear just what would change.

Of course, that’s been the case ever since Moscow sent troops, jets, radars, and more to Syria in September. Putin declared that his forces were there to help the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and its fellow radical militants, but observers noted that many Russian airstrikes seemed aimed at political opponents of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.

Along the way, Defense One has worked to make sense of it all and to peer into the possible future. Here are some crucial contributions from our staff and contributors:

  • What Happens If Russia Loses in Syria? (Dominic Tierney, January 2016). “Putin’s war could be unraveling….Moscow doesn’t have experience coordinating military operations with Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. This is Russia’s first military expedition outside of its immediate sphere of influence since the end of the Cold War.”
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