What Russian Pullout Could Mean for Syrian Peace Process


On Monday, President Putin said that Russia would begin to withdraw its forces from Syria on March 15.

“I believe that the task put before the Defence Ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled, So I have ordered that starting tomorrow the main part of our military groups will begin their withdrawal from the Syrian Arab Republic,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in televised comments.

In an interview with Valdaiclub.com, Paul Saunders, Executive Director of The Nixon Center and Associate Publisher of The National Interest, said the move is likely to put pressure on the Syrian government to intensify dialogue with the opposition, but would not prompt other countries involved in the military operations there to do the same.

“I see the move as putting pressure on the Assad government to negotiate seriously with the opposition,” Saunders said in comments sent by email. “This could facilitate an agreement by encouraging Damascus to moderate its goals. However, it remains to be seen how many personnel, aircraft, and other military assets will withdraw and how quickly this will happen. Adjusting that process over time can remain a source of Russian leverage.”

A peace agreement between Assad and the opposition could facilitate the fight against ISIS, Saunders went on to say. “However, since President Putin originally said that Russia went to Syria to fight ISIS, and has now said that Moscow can withdraw after achieving its objectives but before ISIS has been defeated, some will likely question his earlier statements – particularly in the United States, Turkey, and some other countries in the region. This could be an obstacle to multi-lateral cooperation,” he elaborated.

“I do not see any reason to expect that Russia's unilateral withdrawal would encourage other governments to reduce their own involvements in Syria. That would be more likely as the outcome of multilateral negotiations,” the Valdai Club expert concluded.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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