Putin: mission accomplished in Syria?

16 Mar , 2016 Op-Ed

Yesterday, the President of Russia, Mr. Vladimir Putin, declared ‘mission accomplished’ in Syria and ordered the withdrawal of the Russian troops and airplanes that bombed the Syrian opposition and the jihadist factions that are fighting against the al-Assad regime for the control of the Syrian territory. This happens approximately six months after the beginning of the Russian military campaign in support of the government in Damascus.

What did I do?

Starting from the Russian president declaration that the major objectives of the operation were generally fulfilled, I did a discourse analysis of past discourse transcripts and statements of the Russian president and other high-level officials regarding the major objectives assumed by the Russian government and army in Syria in the last months, especially in the first two months (September-October ’15) of the operation. I have selected five relevant speech transcripts or statements of the Russian government from the Kremlin website (English version) and searched for main ideas concerning major policy objectives for the Syrian operation.

What are the results?

Throughout all five texts, the main policy objectives that can be discerned are (1) to block the return of Russian or post-Soviet Space citizens that have become jihadists and ISIS-affiliated fighters to the Russian Federation or into the post-Soviet Space, (2) to save the al-Assad regime in Syria (3) and force a dialogue between the Rebel factions and the al-Assad regime for a ‘comprehensive strategy’ for political stabilization by maintaining a pro-Russian reformed regime in Damascus, (4) and, finally, that the military support will have a limited timeframe (according to Russian sources quoted by Western mass-media outlets (e.g. BBC article), the timeframe was set at maximum six months).

Are those objectives fulfilled?

Having discovered the main policy objectives of the Russian government in Syria, we can now search if the publicly-stated objectives have been ‘generally fulfilled’, as the Mr. Putin declared on Monday.

(1) Blocking the return of Islamic radicalized individuals to the Russian Federation or its near-abroad;

I have no way of analyzing if this objective has been reached by the military operation deployed in Syria, but we can infer that by killing a significant number of Al-Nusra, ISIS, and rebel fighters they could have reduced to some degree the number of returned fighters, even if they were not able to discriminately strike only those fighters that have links with the Russian space. I will say that this objective has not been fulfilled.

(2) The Salvation of the al-Assad regime in Syria

This major policy objective has been clearly achieved by this military opperation and the joint diplomatic offensive. Last September, the al-Assad regime was controlling just a few territories around Damascus and had major problems protecting its capital from a steady and strong offensive of the rebel forces from the East and the West, together with regular incursions of ISIS forces from the South. The Russian military intervention has been essential for the survival of the Damascus regime.

(3) Force a dialogue between the rebel factions and the al-Assad regime and a ‘comprehensive strategy’ for political stabilization

This major policy objective has been also achieved but remains to be seen if the discussions between the two sided will continue and if the al-Assad regime will agree to structural reforms that will integrate the rebel elite into its leadership and if the pro-Russian stance continues under the new political regime.

(4) Limited timeframe (4-6 months)

The Russian intervention in Syria was from the start declared and envisioned to be relatively short, for about six months. This has been, in my opinion, a smart move from Kremlin, who didn’t want to be caught to entangled in the Syrian conflict. Even so, it raises some questions about the operational capabilities of the Russian Army to operate abroad for a long period of time.

Conclusions

As we can see, the main policy objectives officially stated by the Russian Federation in multiple statements in the first months of the military campaign have been ‘generally fulfilled’ in the six months timeframe. The achievements are not complete or absolute, nor definitive or secured, especially the first (and a very important objective for the Russian national security) and the third. It remains to be seen whether the achievements will last the test of time and international politics.

Speech transcripts or statements used in my analysis

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50385

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/50401

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/50458

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/50533

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/51511


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