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.”
- Fighting While Friending: The Grey War Advantage of ISIS, Russia, and China (Peter Pomerantsev, December 2015). “Russia has entered the Syrian stage in such a way as to surprise the West and ensure it will play a starring role in any narrative going forward—whether that narrative involves keeping Assad in power or a “global fight against terror.”
- Russia is Proving Why Nuclear-Tipped Cruise Missiles Are a Very Bad Idea (Tom Z. Collima, October 2015). “Those four cruise missiles that crashed in Iran could’ve been carrying nuclear warheads — which is why the US should ban them, not renew them.”
- Don’t Chase Putin Out of Syria — Let Him Fail On His Own (Derek Chollet, October 2015). “Putin is no chess master. He overstretched and misstepped in Syria, and U.S. would be wiser to wait him out than chase him out.”
- Watch What Putin Does, Not What He Says (Samuel Greene, October 2015). “Nothing in the Russian president’s UN speech suggested he was about to bomb Syria or withdraw from Ukraine. But that’s what he did.”
- Moscow’s Moves in Syria Exploit Limits of Obama’s Containment Strategy (Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Molly O’Toole, Sept 2015). “Washington wants to shape the conflict from afar, but Russia is now shaping the facts on the ground.
- Who Cares If Russia Helps Stabilize Syria (Steve Levine, September 2015). “If Putin and Obama don't want a fight, Moscow and Washington should get over themselves and let this work.”