Global Independent Analytics

Is Russia’s Syria Withdrawal Putin's Gamble? Economic, Geopolitical Consequences At Stake, Analysts Say

Syrian civilians finally can hope that the current cease-fire is perhaps the beginning of the end of what has been classified as genocide

Christopher Harress in his article for IBTimes reports: Against a backdrop of Syria’s ruined cities and towns, razed by five years of constant civil war, the country’s beleaguered civilians were given a rare glimpse of hope Tuesday when Russian military forces began to withdraw.

However, this move may be seen as a multi-faceted maneuver: by doing so, Putin ensured that Assad will remain in power. Besides this, Russia’s support helped her get a new political friend, that is Syria, and, moreover, by leaving the military presence in Syria Putin also could cut back military spending in his home country. The pullback might even persuade the EU to ease economic sanctions implied on Russia: to minimize effects of the sanctions, Russia only needs to be allowed to regain access to international banking systems to borrow its way out of the financial crisis. While nothing is guaranteed, analysts agree that the move is worth the risk and the gambit still may work out.

Harress describes: “The war has cost Russia $660 million since September, which is less than half of what the U.S. is spending and a fraction of Moscow’s $50 billion military budget, but the expense is significant for a country crippled by a recession that has put 15 percent of the population below the poverty line. Earlier this month, the Kremlin also decided to cut its defense budget by 5 percent, according to a Reuters report.”

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ official said that despite the Russia’s military mission in Syria was nor expensive nor difficult for the country, the army could have stayed longer, since such success could be an excellent story to tell at home, unlike the Afghan War which resulted in death of about 15,000 Soviet troops and came to be thought of the USSR’s Vietnam.

While one of the main Russia’s aims is to get rid of Western economic sanctions, which were imposed for annexing Crimea, the country also suffers from the consequences of the collapse of the ruble in 2014. Such drastic downfall was caused by an extreme drop in crude oil prices – previously the mainstay of Russia’s exports. After Putin made the decision to withdraw forces, he has a right to hope that the EU might want to lift the sanctions which eventually would slow down refugee crisis by getting Moscow to help end the war.

““Today’s move and Putin’s accompanying statements emphasizing Russia’s support for diplomacy indicate the Kremlin seeks an improved image — particularly with its major trading partner, the EU," according to a statement from the Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm in New York. "However, we still believe the EU is intent on renewing sector sanctions before they expire on 31 July. Today’s move may affect European actions later this year or early in 2017," Harress provides a quote.

The timing of Russia announcement Monday has taken aback both EU, US and even Assad. The decision to withdraw army might signal that in Putin’s opinion that Assad is now capable of holding the country together and that the regime in Syria will not collapse. The Syrian presidency confirmed Monday that the whole subject happened in absolute agreement although from now on Assad’s army is left vulnerable and under pressure. Another significant moment of this deal is the fact that Assad should not take Russia’s support as granted and now the time has come for him to take his turn at the negotiating table with rebels.

Harress cites: “They’ve been frustrated for months by the quality of Assad’s leadership, and more recently by his reluctance to participate in the peace process,” said William Courtney, a former U.S. ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan and former senior director for Russian and Ukrainian affairs under President Bill Clinton. “The withdrawal has been very much about publicly humiliating Assad and showing him that if he doesn’t take part in the peace process, he could face a similar fate as other dictators that have been overthrown in recent years.”

Russia began intervening in 5-year-long Syrian civil war in September 2015, initially planning to beat both the ISIS and to bolster Assad’s regime. However, Russia’s strategy is nonetheless far from absolute success: the chances are that Assad regime could eventually collapse and destabilize Europe even more.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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