One of the maxims in military principles is that nothing ever seems as it should be, and always consider the unseen actions of your adversary. Such it is when dealing with the very savvy former KGB Colonel, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. Just yesterday, Putin made an announcement – a proclamation — that some will see as a victory but the jury is out on that assessment.
As reported by Fox News, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial pullout of the Russian military from Syria on Monday, after saying his troops largely achieved their combat goals in the country.
He also ordered the country’s diplomatic efforts be stepped up to secure a peace deal in Syria. The move was announced on the day U.N.-backed peace talks on Syria resumed in Geneva.
Announcing his decision in a televised meeting with Russia’s foreign and defense ministries in the Kremlin, Putin said the Russian air campaign has allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military to turn the tide of war and helped create conditions for peace talks.
“With the tasks set before the Defense Ministry and the military largely fulfilled, I’m ordering the Defense Minister to start the pullout of the main part of our group of forces in Syria, beginning tomorrow,” he said.
Putin didn’t specify how many planes and troops should be withdrawn. He emphasized that the Russian airbase in Hemeimeem in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia and a naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartous will continue to operate. The number of Russian soldiers in Syria has not been revealed.”
The last sentence is what we should learn from here in America: “the number of Russian soldiers in Syria has not been revealed.” That is what we call operational security, and therefore no one knows exactly what the level of this “pullout” entails.
Here’s what we can ascertain from the announcement by Putin. Russia had limited objectives in deploying to Syria. Their goal was not to go in and delve into a nation-building operation. Their objective was to tip the balance of the combat operation back towards Bashar Assad with their additional combat power. What Vladimir Putin has just done is let President Barack Obama know he was just defeated in a place where he supposedly drew a red line and declared “Assad must go.”
If we are to learn another lesson from Vladimir Putin, it is not to be engaged in nation-building. Putin and his forces were focused on one operational objective: defeat the capacity and capability of the enemy in order to ensure the advantage to the Syrian Army. Putin had learned from the failed Soviet Union endeavor into Afghanistan. His strategic objectives were limited in scope and achievable, and now he can begin redeployment. And as opposed to Obama, he knows a residual force is necessary to maintain that fragile advantage – after all, he forced a ceasefire with Assad still in power.
Putin knows with his fragile economy he cannot afford to sustain a long-term combat operation along very extended lines of communications. He realizes the logistical support of a large force over such a distance is not prudent. As well, Putin doesn’t want to see his involvement in Syria explode to a greater conflagration with Turkey — who is now contending with Islamic jihadism, as evidenced with the recent attack.
And thanks to Obama and Kerry, Putin has a very capable ally in the region: Iran. Obama’s folly with the Iranian nuclear agreement has enabled the number one sponsor of Islamic terrorism to become financially stable and able to further support its proxy army, Hezbollah, which deployed from neighboring Lebanon in order to support Assad.
Iran is the dominant force now, commands the high ground of Iraq and is easily in position to deploy into Syria and support Bashar Assad. So while Putin may be conducting a partial pullout, he has confidence in a force he’s negotiating with to provide brand new T-90 tanks and state-of-the art fighter jets, along with the deadly S-300 surface-to-air missile system. Putin has built himself a very nice firewall and gained what we’re losing in the Middle East: a foothold and loyal allies. Obama’s Doctrine of “pivoting away” from the Middle East has left our erstwhile allies in a lurch. When we could have supported the Kurds, we sided with the Iranian-supported regime in Baghdad.
Lastly, Putin can now focus on business close to home, that being Ukraine and the Baltic States in a Europe unprepared to contend with a Russian juggernaut. Our American force capacity in Europe is so horribly decimated as we shared previously about refitting Stryker wheeled vehicles with a heavier main gun, instead of the medium machine gun.
Perhaps we don’t care, but we should not look at this declaration of a partial pullout of Russian forces from Syria as some pyrrhic victory — it is not. Barack Obama vehemently stated that Assad must go. Vladimir Putin said, “nyet.” And is it any wonder why a perceived strong man like Donald J.Trump may just pull off this GOP nomination thing?