Why Russia’s Syria pullout is not what it seems

Special to WorldTribune.com

Russia’s withdrawal from Syria “should not be taken at face value,” a former senior Israeli military official said.

While President Valdimir Putin announced the pullout earlier this week, Moscow has decided to maintain major combat platforms in Syria, including the S-400 air and missile defense system.

While equipment and manpower were being loaded out, Russia still is leaving quite a bit behind, analysts said.
While equipment and manpower were being loaded out, Russia still is leaving quite a bit behind, analysts said.

“We should remember the difference between declarations and operations,” said Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion, former head of the strategic division of the IDF General Staff.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Orion said the question “is not why Russia is pulling out, but why was it declared now?”

“I usually recommend comparing words with deeds, so let’s wait and see what leaves and what stays behind,” he said.

Orion said he expects that, along with the S-400, Russian air force and naval assets also will remain in Syria.

“Since president Putin never declared publicly the exact goals of the Russian mission in Syria, he can now elegantly state that they were achieved and officially terminate it [the mission] while preserving the flexible options he needs.”

Lt.-Col. (Res.) Moshe Marzuk, a researcher at the Institute for Counter- Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy, told the Post the Russians “won’t leave completely because they have continued interests there.”

If Moscow does withdraw a significant amount of forces, Marzuk expects Hizbullah to follow suit since it faces internal Lebanese pressure, in addition to Saudi Arabia’s actions against the Shi’ite group and its cutting off of aid to Lebanon.

Russia poured up to $800 million into the Syria campaign, according to a Reuters estimate, and cost saving is seen by some analysts as a likely motive for the withdrawal, particularly as oil prices remain low.

Daniel (Dima) Course, a founding member of the Israeli Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies who also teaches at Ariel University, told the Post “the decision [to withdraw] surprised everyone outside, and even inside, Russia.”

Course added that it appears Putin made the decision alone or only with a few close advisers.

Course added that another possible reason for the pullout is Russia’s move to repair relations with Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia.