“I’ll be back.” –
Arnold Schwarzenegger Vladimir Putin, on the Syrian Civil War
Well, one thing is for sure: he is just as unpredictable here as he was Monday.
It turns out Russia will not withdraw most of its military presence in Syria. And those that have returned back can easily be redeployed “within hours” to full fighting strength.
Is threatening to return to Syria just the same as never leaving? Possibly; but the fact that Putin gave a stern warning that they will not hesitate to arrive back into the conflict shows flexing muscles on their part.
Now, the ever-looming Russian Bear is watching over the Syrian Civil War, waiting until there’s a threat to pounce.
From The Washington Post:
Russia could rebuild its military presence in Syria in a matter of hours and will maintain powerful air defenses in the country for the foreseeable future, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, offering a chest-beating assessment of a deployment that rescued Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from near defeat.
Putin’s surprise announcement Monday that Russia would partially withdraw from Syria as suddenly as it had intervened was widely interpreted as a sign to Assad to be more flexible at Geneva peace talks underway this week. But the Russian leader’s comments Thursday offered more robust backing for Assad, dimming chances for progress in the deadlocked negotiations.
Speaking briefly at a Kremlin awards ceremony for veterans of the six-month intervention, Putin portrayed the combat operation as a success that cost Russia little and demonstrated the country’s “indisputable leadership, will and responsibility” in fighting terrorism.
He also issued a warning, saying Russia would respond in force if its remaining military presence in Syria came to harm.
“Our systems will be used against any targets that we will see as a threat to Russian servicemen,” Putin said, referring to the powerful S-400 antiaircraft missiles and other systems that Russia is maintaining at its air base in Syria.
As talks between Assad and the Syrian opposition continue in Geneva this week, Putin said that Russian forces could return to an “appropriate strength” at the base in just hours, if the need arises. He also said that the balance of power between Assad and his enemies “will be ensured” despite the Russian pullout, suggesting that the Kremlin remains committed to preventing the ouster of Assad by force, even if that means another Russian deployment.
“Bearing in mind our support and the strengthening of the Syrian army, I am sure we will see new successes of patriotic forces in fighting terrorism in the near future,” Putin said.
Putin’s zig-zagging moves this week — first seemingly to give Assad a push with the pullout, then backing him again on Thursday — will give Secretary of State John F. Kerry much to discuss in Moscow next week. He plans a visit to work out prospects for peace after the Russian intervention.
Putin underlined Russia’s continuing support for Syrian troops both financially and in training, and he sought to dispel analyses that Russia’s sudden drawdown in Syria was a political maneuver to put pressure on Assad to engage in diplomatic talks.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem took an uncompromising line ahead of the talks last week, leading both Russian analysts and U.S. officials to believe that Assad was more interested in reconquering all the territory he has lost than in striking deals with the opposition.Putin’s motivations in Syria — always somewhat opaque — had appeared to put more emphasis on general stability in the war-torn country than on Assad himself. But Putin on Thursday sought to bolster his strongest Arab ally.
Assad was “informed of our plans in advance and supported them,” Putin said, adding that “we see his restraint, sincere aspiration for peace, and his preparedness for compromise and dialogue.”
Syrian officials have also sought to put the best face on the Russian withdrawal, saying that it had been done in consultation with Assad. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that although Putin had informed Assad of his decision shortly before it was announced publicly, Assad had no input or choice about the matter.
Following large investments to reform Russia’s military and on the heels of a hybrid intervention in Ukraine, Russia brandished its new military muscle in Syria, the country’s first intervention outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War. Besides employing punishing airstrikes that critics say targeted not terrorists but more moderate opponents of Assad, Russia also showed off new high-tech weapons, such as ship-based cruise missiles.