Russia’s unexpected decision to withdraw its troops from Syria has caused hot debates among politicians, experts and the crowd. Some people have criticized the Russian leaders for backdown, others have welcomed them and have called the whole campaign as an adventure that prevented Russia from solving its own problems.
Some experts link the Russian campaign in Syria with the war in Donbass. They say that the Russian leaders expected new escalation in Donbass and just tried to avoid fighting on two fronts. There people who suspect them of having made some backstage deals with the West concerning Ukraine and Syria.
Right after the decision, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone talk with his US counterpart Barack Obama and the presidents talked not only about Syria but also about Ukraine. But today these two problems are on agenda almost everywhere. Besides, the Americans were so much surprised at the Russians’ decision that one can hardly suspect any preliminary approvals here.
EADaily has asked a number of political and military experts if there is a link between the new escalation in Donbass and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria.
President of the National Strategy Institute Mikhail Remizov does not rule out such a possibility. But he does not think that there were any preliminary agreements between Russia and the United States. “I don’t think there was any backstage dialogue on exchanging Syria for Ukraine. This contrary to the United States’ philosophy,” Remizov said.
He said there actually was a threat that Russia might face a two-front war. “Since Minsk 2 the Ukrainians have become stronger. So, there may be a strong temptation for them to try to resolve the problem of Donbass by means of a blitzkrieg. Novorossiya’s armed forces would hardly be able to rebuff such an attack on their own, while Russia would not be able to help them effectively if they continued their campaign in Syria. So, if Kiev decides to organize a blitzkrieg, Moscow will have to act directly unless it wants to see Donbass captured and mopped up,” Remizov said.
This was not the key reason why the Russians decided to leave Syria but this decision has one important consequence – now Ukraine has no more chances for a blitzkrieg.
In Remizov’s opinion, it was a planned action. “We have seen that we have fulfilled our short-term tasks in Syria and have left that country so as to avoid new military and political risks, like, for example, a conflict with Turkey,” the expert said.
Military expert Anatoly Nesmiyan (well known as El Murid blogger) said that it was wrong to link Donbass and Syria. “These are two different wars with different goals, conditions and backgrounds. So, I see no link here,” he said.
“In Syria, we had just 40 planes and no more than 4,000 men. So, we can’t say that their withdrawal can change the situation in Donbass,” Nesmiyan said.
“On the other hand, it is possible that during summit meetings these two problems are clustered. But in reality they have relation to one another. The only thing they have in common is our unclear policy towards both of them,” Nesmiyan said.
Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements, thinks that the Russian authorities had no strategy in Syria and that their only goal was to reconcile with the West.
“Perhaps they have achieved their goal but this has nothing to do with Syria. When they sent their troops to that country, its future was the last thing they cared for. What they cared for was how to use that for recovering their relations with the Americans and improving their reputation in Europe,” Kagarlitsky said.
He thinks that it was just a PR campaign. “They have made the best of it. As regards Donbass, I think there too we may see some unpleasant surprises as the Russians’ policy of reconciliation with the West requires them to make as many concessions as possible,” Kagarlitsky said.
Military historian Yevgeny Norin does not rule out the possibility of some Russian-US deals but he can’t say if they concerned Ukraine.
“In long-term future the campaign in Syria might face very serious challenges. In fact, we have already spoiled our relations with Turkey and have suffered one of the biggest terrorist attacks in our history. Politics are an art of compromise, so, the Russians and the Americans may have just agreed to divide the spheres of influence. I can’t say if their agreements concerned Ukraine or not,” Norin said.
Co-Chairman of the Novorossiya-Syria Friendship Association Vladimir Rogov sees no link between the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria and the escalation in Donbass. “President Putin’s decision was unexpected but well-considered as were his decisions to start the campaign and to negotiate truce in Syria,” Rogov said.
He agreed with Putin’s statement that Russia’s Defense Ministry and troops in Syria have fulfilled their mission. “The Russian army has proved its efficiency. But now that it is very windy in Syrian deserts, air forces will not be very accurate. In any case, the Russians have fulfilled their key task in Syria – to destroy ISIL’s (a terror organization banned in Russia - EADaily) infrastructure. The Syrian army has regained control over the oil fields near Palmira. So, now that the Syrian governmental troops control the bigger part of the Syrian territory, together with the Iranian revolution guards and Hezbollah, they are successfully liberating the rest of Syria. Russia’s goal in Syria has been fulfilled – it has saved that country from a collapse,” Rogov said.
As regards Ukraine, Rogov noted that the Kiev regime is having hard times. “Russia’s support could put down this occupant regime in just a few days but the point is that this regime is dusting down and may fall very soon. The fate of the people who call themselves authorities in Kiev is really unenviable,” Rogov said.
He noted that none of the countries that have promised to supply the Kiev authorities with lethal arms have done it yet. Nor has the IMF lent them the money it promised in exchange for a budget ruining their social sector. According to Rogov, in near future the Americans will not be active in Ukraine and will only pump resources out of that country.
So, there is no direct link between the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria and the situation in Donbass, indirectly these two processes may well be linked. If they in the West qualify Russia’s decision as weakness, they will stop respecting its attitude on Ukraine, but if the conflict in Syria is settled, Russia will enjoy growing reputation and more chances to turn the situation in Donbass into its advantage.
Further events will show if the assumption that the Russians left Syria just to be safer in Donbass is true.