Weekend Roundup: Putin’s Drawdown Is as Much About World Order as About Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise announcement this week of a withdrawal of some forces from Syria has put an end to the narrative that Russia was bound to be trapped in a Mideast quagmire. Whether in Ukraine or in Syria, it has become clear that Russia’s actions are as much about its role in the world order as about those countries.
Writing from Beirut, former M16 agent Alastair Crooke puts it this way: “The common thread running through both conflicts (Ukraine and Syria) has been the Russian leadership’s overriding concern to deflect any Western or NATO dynamic towards confrontation with Russia. One of Putin’s main priorities in launching his ‘war’ on terrorism then, precisely has been to tease out some peer-to-peer American cooperation, as a prelude to ‘resetting’ the relationship between both powers.” Crooke continues: “That said, catalyzing a Syrian political process — in one form or another — is surely a subsidiary objective: Mr Putin, from the outset, has said that Russian military intervention had limited aims, but was designed to ‘create conditions for a political settlement.'”
Writing from Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov argues that Putin’s intervention, and now pullback, in Syria has laid the groundwork for a genuine political settlement. “As we know from similar conflicts,” Lukyanov writes, “parties start to seriously think about negotiations when they realize that no military victory is available. By intervening in October, Moscow showed the opposition that it can’t expect to win this war. By pulling out forces partially in March, Russia sends the same signal to the regime: it can’t count on Russian military might to win complete military victory.”