“Russia doesn’t withdraw from Syria but from the situation that occurred there. It is called an “exit strategy”,” Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of Caucasus Institute, Political Scientist, shared his opinion at the Media Center discussion on March 18.

According to him, Russia had three purposes: “The first was the raise of the collaboration level with the Western States. Last year they did not take into account Russia, now they talk with it. First it took place in Crimea and then in Syria. Moscow made it clear in this way that it has interests which should be taken into account, otherwise, it can take drastic measures,” Iskandaryan said. 

The next purpose was the developments around Ukraine that were pushed back because of these Middle East operations and Russia came out of this situation to some extent.

“The next purpose was Syria and the situation over Assad. Now Assad became an inter-Syrian regulatory part and Assad’s removal is less discussed. Finally, Russia did not withdraw from Syria as there are Hmeymim, Latakia and Tartus bases. They are quite strongly attached. So, in case of necessity, Russia can enlarge and dislocate the forces in a few days,” Iskandaryan said.

Aghasi Yenokyan, Director of the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, thinks that Russia did not manage to achieve its goals: “It’s clear that it had an objective to become a Middle East player which it would later try to exchange with the activities against Russia in Ukraine but it failed. Russia was told that it referred to global players only. Russia was also told that discussions on Ukraine and Syria will be made separately.  What concerns the second purpose, Russia did not solve any important strategic problem for Assad. That is, there is some tactical progress but, however, Assad’s state is not irreversible. It’s clear that in this situation Assad will hardly stay in power. So, Russia failed to become a global player,” Yenokyan concluded, saying however that the decision of withdrawing Russian forces is not clear for him. “To tell the truth, I don’t know why Russia withdrew. There are likely to be some underwater issues we are unaware of but they will be explored soon.”

Stepan Grigoryan, Chairman of the Board of Analytical Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation, stated that Russia returned the role of a global player and that it did not fulfill all the objectives it had when entering Syria.

“Russia almost openly stated that it is ready to make concessions about Syria and it is clear what they meant – the sanctions related to Ukraine. As both the USA and EU again readopted the sanctions and prolonged them, it’s clear that this factor also had a big role. Besides, though the Russian military campaign strengthened Assad, it did not manage to make him the only legitimate power in Syria. Now Moscow accepts other parties of the conflict: the moderate opposition, the Kurdish factor and so on,” Grigoryan said. 

The speaker also mentioned the problem of resources. Disagreeing with Iskandaryan’s opinion that this was one of the cheapest wars, Stepan Grigoryan noted:  “Though not much money was spent on the Syrian War, it’s hard for Moscow to be at war in Syria, to have a conflict with Ukraine, “to digest Crimea” and to face sanctions at the same time.” 

Arman Navasardyan, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, highlighted that this was a good opportunity for Russia to practice its own arsenal.  

“This was also a platform for demonstration and practice of military force and Russia showed his modern weapons. And initially it was said that Russian forces would not stay there forever. The situation in Syria glowed; the superpowers reached the red line and understood that the problems need to be solved. For Moscow it is the part of the process to make a multipolar world and not an objective to assist Assad,” Navasardyan said.

According to the diplomat, there are also internal problems in Russia, particularly the Sunni Muslim Community (20 mln.) in Russia that could act. He said that the withdrawal of Russia is also important for the relations with Turkey.

“The Russian-Turkish rhetoric has slightly softened lately,” he noticed.

Arevik Sahakyan, Events Coordinator at “Media Center”

To contact the author please send an email to [email protected]

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