Why Russia Is Claiming Victory In Syria

Call it Vladimir Putin’s “mission accomplished” speech.

Nor has Russia abdicated the strategic advantage on the ground. The Kremlin has been coy about the size and strength of the military contingent that will remain in Syria after the “main part” of its forces have withdrawn. Yet all indications are that remainder is sizeable—and capable. Indeed, Russia is continuing to carry out airstrikes on anti-regime targets even as its forces begin to pull out of the country. And if necessary, Moscow can still turn back the clock. As Putin himself has noted, Russia could surge military forces back into Syria if it deemed necessary – and could do so in a matter of mere hours.

Given the continuing chaos in Syria, it’s tempting to view Russia’s unfolding drawdown as strictly a defensive maneuver. But Putin’s directive bears all the hallmarks of a more complex and nuanced strategy – a reversible step designed to garner his government important political leverage while preserving the strategic advantages it has managed to secure so far.

Seen in this light, Putin’s mission has indeed been accomplished.

Ilan Berman is Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.  

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Kremlin.ru.