- - Monday, March 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the Russian military had largely accomplished its mission in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime, ordered the Russian military to begin withdrawing a substantial amount of forces from the region.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had telephoned Syrian leader Bashar Assad to inform him of the Russian decision. The move was announced on the day United Nations-brokered talks between the warring sides in Syria resumed in Geneva, reported Reuters. Putin ordered Russian diplomats to intensify efforts to find an agreement to end the conflict.

In the surprise announcement, the Kremlin reiterated however that Russia would maintain a military presence in the country. Russian forces would stay on at the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria’s Latakia province.

“The effective work of our military created the conditions for the start of the peace process,” Mr. Putin said. “I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled. With the participation of the Russian military … the Syrian armed forces and patriotic Syrian forces have been able to achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism and have taken the initiative in almost all respects. I am therefore ordering the defense minister, from tomorrow, to start the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingent from the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The pressure of Kremlin finances has been significant in light of Western sanctions and a collapse in the price of crude oil on global markets, the life blood of the Russian economy. The announcement is perhaps a recognition that Russia does not have the resources to maintain a long-term conflict overseas in addition to funding social spending, military modernization, and other needs of the Russian economy.

Although Russia has made great progress in modernizing its military, the percentage of its armed forces actually operating post-Soviet, 21st-century equipment is still quite small, somewhere around thirty percent. Old aircraft, such as SU-24 bombers, are expensive to maintain. It is highly likely that the costs to sustain such an expeditionary force simply became too great for Moscow.

In addition, any value of proving the combat worthiness of new designs and working out new tactics in a wartime environment, most likely has already been realized.

As Mr. Putin’s spokesman mentioned, Russia will maintain its naval force at Tartus, and an air component at its new air base near Latakia, allowing Moscow to ramp up forces in the region on short notice if the need arises in the future.

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