The announcement that Russia would be withdrawing its main forces from Syria in the coming week came as a great surprise to many persons who have been following events unfolding in the Middle East.
The question being raised is why now? What are the real issues that have led to this withdrawal at such a crucial time?
The official announcement is that Russia’s objective has been achieved. Sounds good, but what we don’t know is what was the objective that was initially made?
What the world heard is that they were fighting terrorism. Well, that is not defeated; it is still a strong threat. So that reason sounds vague.
What we do know is that Russia has been coming under enormous pressure regarding the situations in Syria and Ukraine.
A lot of sanctions have been placed on that country by the United States and Europe and they are surely having an impact.
We also know that Russia’s economy, which is heavily dependent on oil, is facing hardship and great challenges to its survival.
It is even felt that the low price for oil is a deliberate manipulation by the West to hit Russia’s economy and push her government to retreat from their positions.
The demands that are being made include the future of President Assad of Syria. The US and Europe are digging in their heels that Assad must go. Russia has been resisting these forces/demands.
Indeed, Russia’s interventions helped to stop this action when the US-financed forces, together with ISIS, had advanced and was in control of large areas of Syria.
The US and their allies have been using Saudi Arabia and Turkey to keep the pressure on Russia. The Saudis, in a recent statement, said they were sending troops and planes to assist in the fight against the Assad government. The danger of the Syrian war escalating is also very real.
Moreover, it is clear that part of the plan if Assad is not moved is to balkanize Syria, with Turkey taking a part and the Kurds seizing a section as well.
It is possible that Russia has been placed in a tight position to give up support to Assad. However, it will lose face and even respect if this is done. Therefore, Russia, while seeking compromise, must also save face.
The face-saving scheme could include letting Assad go, but not immediately. A transition period must be granted to Assad.
Maybe Russia might also be pushing for some sort of autonomy for the Donbass district in the Ukraine. That, too, will allow it to walk away from Syria without appearing to have abandoned the Assad government.
It is also clear that Russia does not want to be caught in an unending war. This is the prospect they faced with Saudi Arabia and Turkey being used as proxies to counter their efforts in Syria.
So another compromise could be Russia’s withdrawal from Syria for no Saudi intervention and not to balkanize Syria.
These may have been some of the issues that led to Russia’s sudden withdrawal.
If that is so, let us hope that those who made the deals (US and Europe) will stick by them. Otherwise, it could be seen as an abandonment of Syria.