Vladimir Putin is clearly full of surprises. With great fanfare, Russia has begun at least a partial pullout from Syria. Back at their Russian bases, some of the pilots have been treated to welcome home fanfares with big bands and bunting. Putin has claimed a decisive victory, and the Russian populace is eating it up. Russia’s sleight of hand has proved costly not only to the Syrian people, but also to U.S., European, and Gulf-based interests.
Of course, we’ve seen this movie before—in Ukraine. After waging successful hybrid warfare and thoroughly upstaging both Kiev and Washington, Moscow negotiated an initial ceasefire that was little more than a feint. It then continued right where it left off, further attacking and destabilizing the country before negotiating another ceasefire that it has episodically been violating ever since. We should expect nothing different in Syria, and already Russian bombing runs have continued—in direct violation of the ceasefire it brokered.
After all, as soon as Putin publicly discussed the possibility of giving Bashir al-Assad exile in Russia, Russian forces in Syria ramped up for a highly intensive multi-week bombing campaign in Syria that included directly targeting hospitals and allowing Syrian forces to retake hundreds of towns and thousands of miles of territory. It furthermore allowed the Kurdish forces to occupy additional chunks of territory abutting Turkey, causing the latter to shift into crisis mode and begin shelling the Kurdish protection units in Syria and demanding the West help put in place a safe zone.
So what has Russia achieved in Syria? To begin with, it upstaged the West with a second surprise intervention that has caused the United States and Europe to backpedal their demand that Assad step down immediately. It has, at least for now, stabilized the Assad regime, which continues to violate the “cessation of hostilities” in its drive to unite its territorial hold in the western part of the country. In prolonging the conflict and exacerbating it as