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.