Realpolitik: Russia's Pullout Paving Way to Political Settlement in Syria

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Russian Aerospace Defense Forces' Su-30SM fighter escorts a Tu-160 bomber which fired cruise missiles at ISIS targets in Syria - Sputnik International
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In Syria, Russia has demonstrated that political realism works in the twenty-first century, New York City-based political analyst Nikolay Pakhomov notes, adding that announcing the withdrawal of Russia's military contingent, President Putin "has shown, again, that he still calls the shots."

Russia's military campaign in Syria was launched in September 2015 in response to an official request from the legitimate, democratically-elected Syrian government, and it has revealed a lot about the country's foreign policy approach, writes Nikolay Pakhomov, a Russian International Affairs Council expert.

"One can argue about reasons for Russia's actions, but Moscow followed the procedures of international and domestic law. It was logical, then, that the pullout announcement was followed by the news of President Assad thanking Russia for its support… Russia's actions have shown that it is effective to deal with states according to the international law, rather than via slogans in editorial pages," Pakhomov writes in his article for The National Interest.

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Summing up the results of Russia's aerial campaign in Syria, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu underscored that more than 9,000 flights have been carried out in the course of the operation.

As a result of the strikes, Daesh's ability to benefit from hydrocarbon trade has been significantly hindered and in some places completely undermined. The main routes of weapons and ammunition deliveries to terrorists have also been blocked.  

"In total, with support from our air force, the Syrian troops liberated 400 towns and over 10,000 square kilometers of territory. We have seen a significant turning point in the fight against terrorism," Shoigu reported at a working meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

However, the crux of the matter is that the Russian aerial operation has opened the door to peace negotiations in Syria.

"In addition to the results that were achieved directly on the ground during military actions to repress terrorists, our Aerospace Forces operation helped create conditions for the political process," Sergei Lavrov underscored during the meeting.

"I feel that the objectives set before the Defense Ministry and the Russian Armed Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic have generally been fulfilled," President Putin summarized, according to the transcript of the meeting published by the Kremlin.ru website.

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But that is not all. Pakhomov focuses on the fact that contrary to US President Obama's notion, Moscow has demonstrated that it is not a "regional" actor, but rather a "multi-regional" player that is able to "meaningfully project its military power."

The expert adds that the Russian leadership has also shown that its actions and decisions are based on political realism and national interests, not optimistic dreams and wishful thinking.

"These three cornerstones (a state and international law centered view of international relations, a capacity to project military power and a consideration of national interests) are essential to Russia's strategy in the Middle East," the expert underscores.

Undeniably, Moscow's realist approach and the clarity of its moves have attracted Middle Eastern regional players. It allowed Russia to accelerate its interactions (if not cooperation) with the countries of the Middle East, Pakhomov points out.

To illustrate his stance, the expert refers to the Russo-Kurdish collaboration on the ground in Syria, Russia's deepening partnership with Israel and the ongoing political dialogue with Saudi Arabia.

It goes without saying that Russia also continues to cooperate closely with Syria and Iran.

While the Middle East still remains a turbulent region, Moscow's strategy has proven to be efficient. It has revealed that a thoughtful and balanced foreign policy can bear its fruit and pave the way for a comprehensive political settlement.

"Russia's actions during the crises in Syria show both that the vigor and timing of these actions are effective and that the recipes of classical, realist diplomacy work in the twenty-first century," the expert stresses, adding that by announcing the withdrawal of Russia's military forces from Syria Putin "has shown, again, that he still calls the shots."

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Retired US Colonel and military historian Doug Macgregor echoes Pakhomov's stance in his recent interview with Sputnik.

Macgregor dubbed Putin's pull-out decision a brilliant one, and taken at the correct time.

"If only we had similarly intelligent national leadership. We should have done the same in Iraq during the fall of 2003. We should have left Afghanistan in 2002. Instead we exacerbated regional tensions and handed Iran control of Iraq. Afghanistan is now far more divided, corrupt and potentially troublesome than it was in 2001," the retired colonel told Sputnik.

In his turn, former CIA officer Larry Johnson called the partial withdrawal from Syria "a turning point in the process of stabilizing Syria."

In an exclusive interview with RT, Johnson stressed that "what… Putin is effectively doing is playing a diplomatic card." The CIA veteran referred to the fact that Russia continues to maintain an airbase and a naval base in Syria. That means Moscow will still be able to provide support to the Syrian army.

"So this war is not over, but it clearly has entered into a different phase," Johnson underscored.

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