Judo is a situational, complex coordination, acyclic, speed and power combat sport.
As you may know, the Russian president is a judoka. The key rule of judo is to achieve maximum result with minimum effort. This is exactly what Russia’s air forces did in Syria. Following Vladimir Putin’s unexpected decision to withdraw the forces, EADaily is trying to answer basic questions about Syria.
1. What was the president’s decision about?
Exactly what he said. Russia is withdrawing the core of its air forces. The first group of Su-34s has already arrived in Voronezh. But some of the planes are still in Syria and, according to Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, will continue attacking terrorists.
The Russians also have personnel and arms at their naval facility in Tartus and at the Khmeimim airbase and also S-400 air defense systems. So, they will be able to rebuff any attempt by Turkey or any Middle East country to invade Syria.
The Russian air forces will need no more than two days for going back home. So, what Putin meant was, “we are not withdrawing all of our forces and we may come back.”
2. What have we achieved over the last five months?
Some western analysts and Syrian “oppositionists” have taken Putin’s decision as Russia’s defeat. In reality, ISIL (a terror organization banned in Russia) has not been fully destroyed and the territory regained by Assad’s army is not very big. But what Russia has done in Syria is more than just a physical victory. In Sept 2015, Bashar al-Assad was almost defeated and the key goal of the West and its allies was to see Damascus in the hands of the Syrian “opposition.” Now that Assad is much stronger, the key goal is to destroy ISIL. What actually matters here is that the United States has changed its policy on Syria. The Americans are now eager to see ISIL destroyed. And a few months or even weeks, we may well see the fall of Raqqah and Mosul. For the first time ever, the opposition has agreed to negotiate with Assad. So, even if not all terrorists have been destroyed, very soon they will be.
3. Why are we leaving now?
It was symbolic that the Russian air forces left Syria on the fifth anniversary of the Syrian war and the Geneva talks. In a word, we have left Syria so as not to go too far. On the one hand, our air campaign was not very expensive – $2mn-4mn a day against $175,000 spent by the United States for destroying one ISIL fighter. On the other hand, the stymied opposition might withdraw from the peace process and that might become a signal for the Middle East monarchies and Turkey to invade Syria. In that case, a victory over ISIL would require a land operation. If that happened, Syria would turn into second Afghanistan. One more factor was that the war in Syria is also a war of Shias and Sunnis. So, for Russia, with its multimillion Muslim population, it was not dangerous to be in the war any longer.
One more reason why Russia is leaving Syria is that there were charges that Assad was encouraged by the Kremlin to try to resolve the conflict by means of arms rather than peace talks. At some point, Assad even broke the ceasefire. But now he must have agreed that the future of Syria must be determined by all of its citizens. This complies with the Russian-US agreements.
In contrast, Iran is acting contrary to the Russian-Saudi agreements by enlarging its oil output. The Russians are sustaining losses because of low oil price. They cannot tell the Iranians what to do. But their withdrawal from Syria was a surprise for both Syria and Iran and both of them got nervous.
4. What’s next?
The Syrian opposition has already welcomed Russia’s decision. But there is a force that is even more dangerous for the peace talks than ISIL is. We mean al-Nusra Front. It has not ceased fire and has promised to resume its attacks. One of Syrian oppositionists Barry Abdul Latif has told The New York Times that the revolt went the wrong way and that they are lucky that they are still in the game.
Unlike ISIL, who is enemy for all, al-Nusra Front has joined the opposition and now that millions of Syrians have fled their country, it is manipulating the minds of the rest. Russia’s interference was a pretext for the “oppositionists” to recruit more supporters. Now they don’t have this trump any more. So, the United States is going to set its former allies, the Syrian opposition, against al-Nusra. This has been proved by the last conflict between Brigade 13 and Al-Qaeda, when in response to Al-Qaeda’s attack on Brigade 13‘s depot with American arms, oppositionists attacked Al-Qaeda’s offices.
One more important question is who will be the leader of the country and who will have control over that leader. One of the causes of the Syrian “revolt” was Assad’s refusal to build a gas pipeline from Qatar. Now Russia has military bases in Syria, so, it can play a strategic role in the Mediterranean.
With the current fuel prices, the gas pipeline project will hardly be beneficial. So, geopolitically, Russia’s decision to go out of Syria was sensible. A western newspaper says that whoever becomes president in Syria will owe his office to Putin. Besides, Syria is not the only place where Russia and the United States are quarreling about. There is also Ukraine, where war can resume at any moment.
5. What does Ukraine have to do here?
Shortly EADaily will try to answer this question.