Why is Russia Reducing its Troop Numbers in Syria?

News has arrived that Russia is planning to reduce its troop numbers in Syria. To understand this important development, one must first dispense with ridiculous ideas. New York Times commenters’ claims that this is a result of excessive cost, the wisdom of the re-creator of the Islamic State (Obama), or Syria being a quagmire for Russia (LOL) are all squarely ridiculous on their face and are completely wrong. Russia is not withdrawing from the Syrian conflict completely (just the contrary, it will continue airstrikes for as long as needed), the Syrian conflict is not a drain on Russia’s resources (just the contrary, it is estimated to be very cheap), Syria is not a quagmire for Russia (just the contrary, it has accomplished large gains in a fairly short time), and, as I say, sometimes, the world does not revolve around Washington. Sometimes, the world revolves around Moscow.

So why is Russia reducing its troop numbers in Syria? The answer is that this is an inevitable result of Russia’s accomplishment of four of its war aims:

1. Save Latakia from being overrun by the rebels. This is the most obvious explanation for the reduction of troop numbers, as many Russian troops were required to prevent the remote, but potentially catastrophic possibility of this occurring. As Latakia is now almost all regime-held, these troops are no longer needed.

2. Close the Azaz corridor. This prevents supplies from getting through to Aleppo via Azaz, Turkey, and allows the Syrian government to prepare for its eventual closing of the routes to East Aleppo. This can only be accomplished once; the planes used to launch these airstrikes are now less useful than before the closing.

3. A cessation of hostilities across most of the rebel-regime nominal conflict area (Latakia, IS-held areas, Nusra-held areas, and Aleppo mostly excepted). This reduces the need for a very large number of airstrikes on Syrian territory, thus making the present very large number of Russian troops and planes in Syria needless. This also allows for a more concentrated emphasis of Russian assets in Syria on the Islamic State, rather than on other Syrian rebels.

4. Train and equip the Syrian army. Lots of equipment has arrived from Russia to the Syrian army, and numerous Russian forces were temporarily needed to train the Syrian army how to use this equipment. These troops are no longer necessary, either, as the equipment is now being used in battle.

Of course, there could be some other reason for the troop reduction which has not been revealed by the Russian government and I am not familiar with. But these are the most obvious explanations for the reduction of Russian troop numbers in Syria. Ridiculous explanations should not be on the table.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

6 thoughts on “Why is Russia Reducing its Troop Numbers in Syria?”

  1. Hi,

    I saw a comment from you on SSC asserting that Obama created ISIL to overthrow the Maliki government and support the Kurds. Despite your skepticism that anyone could possibly doubt this, I suspect more than half the US doubts this. Can you provide any corroboration or justification for this assertion?

    Just links is fine. I don’t need to be spoon-fed.

    Thanks

      1. I do not have such a hypothesis. I do not have a great deal of information about the situation, which is the whole point of asking you to point me to more information.

        My general impression is that ISIS and its rise are, like most real-world social phenomena, complex and multi-causal.

        1. Raqqa was captured on March 15, 2013 by a coalition of Syrian rebels. ISIS declared a unification of its Iraq and Syria branches in April 2013 and established outposts in al-Bab, Raqqa, and Azaz by November. It then split with the Syrian rebels and captured Fallujah on January 3, 2013. It successfully averted every Syrian rebel attack on its capital, Raqqa, in the first half of 2014. Since, at the time, Turkey allowed Syrian rebels to directly attack the Syrian government in Kesab, I was pretty sure it could do the same to the IS, which, during the first half of 2014, had a very long border with Turkey, comprising the entirety of the northern portion of Raqqa province and far more. It was at that point I realized the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey were behind the IS, as it would have been so easy to stop the IS at the time, and said as much to people who would listen. Future events have only confirmed the correctness of this hypothesis. Turkey only started attacking the IS (in practice, the SDF) directly from its soil a few days ago.

          1. Anything that could stand up against even moderate skepticism? It seems to me that you’re making a *huge* leap based on entirely circumstantial evidence. Does the failure of Turkey to attack ISIS in 2014 really imply the existence of a sinister conspiracy between elements of the US and Turkish governments to form ISIS in the first place?

            Your assertions on the subject seem to very specifically implicate Obama personally and ascribe very specific motives to him, none of which seems implied by the circumstantial evidence you provide.

            Note that I’m not arguing that Obama isn’t the founder of ISIS. Maybe he is. I just don’t know how to get there from what you’ve given me.

            1. “Does the failure of Turkey to attack ISIS in 2014 really imply the existence of a sinister conspiracy between elements of the US and Turkish governments to form ISIS in the first place?”

              -Given that Turkey was allowing Syrian rebels to attack the government from its borders simultaneously, I think so, yes.

              “Anything that could stand up against even moderate skepticism?”

              -Again, you don’t have an alternative theory, so I can’t tell why you’re being skeptical.

              “It seems to me that you’re making a *huge* leap based on entirely circumstantial evidence.”

              -I certainly don’t think it’s huge. Obama was admitting to arming the rebels long before. If he was doing so, he must have done it with a purpose. America is very powerful. Consequently, it can accomplish any of its goals in such a place as non-government-controlled Syria. Only events on the ground can give any indications as to what those goals are. So far as I can tell, ISIS is as much a creation of Turkey and the US as Donetsk+Luhansk Republics are creations of Russia, if we are to look at the same evidence in both cases.

              “Your assertions on the subject seem to very specifically implicate Obama personally and ascribe very specific motives to him, none of which seems implied by the circumstantial evidence you provide.”

              -How so? Obama isn’t an idiot.

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