The Role of Russia in Syria

The partial Russian military pull-out from Syria announced by President Vladimir Putin on March 14 continues to generate considerable commentary. Three interpretations stand out. The first sees Putin as cutting Russian losses, a view echoed by members of the Syrian opposition who have portrayed the pull-out as the result of its armed resistance, although there is little evidence for this claim. The second interpretation, which correctly notes that Russia retains a significant combat deployment in Syria that can be easily expanded again, instead argues that Putin’s primary motivation is to exercise leverage, whether over the U.S. or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in order to compel acceptance of Russian terms for a peace deal ending the Syrian conflict. A third view is that Putin has already achieved the foreign and domestic policy objectives that prompted the intervention in Syria, and is satisfied with pocketing the gains.

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