Putin's Game in Syria

Why a Withdrawal Does Not Mean a Pullout

Russian President Vladimir Putin, June 24, 2007. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

On March 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced without any warning that he would be withdrawing his main forces from Syria while maintaining Russia’s bases and forces in the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. This came as a surprise for most, but Putin’s announcement is not actually a pullout from Syria, and it is also consistent with his strategy there to date.

As I argued in Foreign Affairs last fall, the Kremlin has been following a policy of “reasonable sufficiency” in Syria, which means using just enough force to convey that Russia still has significant influence in the country, but not so much that it got pulled into a messy war. To ensure the right balance between using too little and too much force, Moscow used a combination of diplomacy and military intervention in Syria, an approach that falls under a doctrine known as “New Generation Warfare.” Moscow

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