A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 14, 2016

Putin Says Russia Beginning Withdrawal from Syria: Mission Accomplished?

I know blogging has been light the past couple of weeks due to deadlines for our Spring issue. I hope to do more this week.

What are we to make of Vladimir Putin's surprise announcement that Russia is beginning to withdraw its military forces in Syria?

Well, obviously no one knows since everyone was caught off guard. Putin did say that Russia would maintain its air base and naval base, which implies that airstrikes, much reduced in the present ceasefire, might be resumed. Until we see what residual force remains, judging the meaning of the move is difficult. Meanwhile, Russia can claim to be supporting the peace talks.

Arguably, the gains made by the Syrian Army and its allies with Russian air cover have sufficiently transformed the battlefield to permit withdrawal, but I think a suspension of judgment until the scope of the withdrawal is clearer, would be well-advised.

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