FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Russia is Pulling Out of Syria, When Will the US?

In a surprise announcement on March 14, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the Russians were withdrawing “most of our military” from Syria beginning immediately.

According to the TASS news agency, Putin said he hoped the withdrawal “will become a good motivation for launching negotiations” and “instructed the foreign minister to intensify Russia’s participation in organization of peace process in Syria.”

The withdrawal, along with Putin’s restated support for a political settlement, could help move forward the fragile UN-brokered Geneva talks on ending the Syrian crisis that began on the same day — as well as the tenuous UN-negotiated cessation of hostilities. “Those Russian servicemen who will stay in Syria will be engaged in monitoring the ceasefire regime,” TASS reported, indicating that the pilots and crews of the 50 Russian warplanes and helicopters that have been based in Syria would be withdrawn.

The withdrawal is an important step that should help reduce the level of violence in the deadly war. But questions remain.

Putin made clear that not all Russian forces would be withdrawn, and that Russia’s airbase near Latakia, as well as Moscow’s small but symbolically important naval base at Tartus on the bennisisisMediterranean coast, would remain open — though they “will operate in a routine mode.” Putin said the two military bases should be “protected from the land, from the sea, and from air,” leaving open the question of whether Russian bombers “protecting” them might also continue bombing raids in Syria, flying from outside Syrian borders.

The Syrian conflict is simultaneously a civil war — pitting a brutal government against a multitude of political and military opposition forces — and a proxy war in which a host of outside powers are fighting for various regional and global hegemonies. And all of those overlapping wars are being fought to the last Syrian.

The reduction of Russian military attacks in Syria, along with Putin’s renewed call for greater Russian engagement in the peace process, may set the stage to reduce, though certainly not end, the proxy war component of the overall conflict.

A real reduction of violence, a durable ceasefire, and a viable peace process leading to an end to the Syrian war will require much more — more from Russia, certainly, but even more from the United States and its allies. There’s no indication yet that Russia’s move was coordinated with Washington, although White House spokespeople indicated that a Putin-Obama talk might be possible.

In the meantime, Washington should follow Russia’s lead and pressure its own proxy forces to shift towards diplomacy. The withdrawal of U.S. troops, special forces, drones, and warplanes from Syria, paralleling the Russian move, would be an important first step. Further moves must include an end to both the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s programs to train and arm rebel forces in Syria. Finally, the U.S. should pressure its regional allies to stop arming Syrian opposition forces, which could also keep those U.S.-supplied arms out of the hands of ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

All of those moves would, like the Russian withdrawal, reduce the proxy war raging in Syria — and give Washington greater leverage to urge Russia and Iran to go even further and stop arming the Syrian regime.

For too long Moscow and Washington have tried to outmuscle each other by escalating the devastating Syrian war. Now, for once, they’ve got a chance to escalate their efforts to end it.

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.

More articles by:

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer. 

Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
Christopher Brauchli
The Defenestration of Scott Pruitt
Ralph Nader
Universal Voting Dissolves the Obstacles Facing Voters
Ron Jacobs
Vermont: Can It Happen Here?
Thomas Knapp
Helsinki: How About a Fresh START?
Seth Sandronsky
A Fraught Century
Graham Peebles
Education and the Mental Health Epidemic
Bob Lord
How to Level the Playing Field for Workers in a Time of Waning Union Power
Saurav Sarkar
I Got Arrested This Summer (and So Should You)
Winslow Myers
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
Kim C. Domenico
Outing the Dark Beast Hiding Behind Liberal Hope
CounterPunch News Service
First Big Strike Since Janus Ruling Hits Vermont Streets
Louis Proyect
Survival of the Fittest in the London Underground
David Yearsley
Ducks and Études
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail