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Russia: Playing the Long Game

Is all as it seems?

Nathan Boyd

Naked Politics Blogger

As the news this week revealed, Russia announced that it was “pulling out its forces” from Syria. On the surface this seemed to surprise the world, but as you start to examine the details of it, not everything is as it seems. Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and global war on Islamic State in 2015 complicated the situation between world powers. With Russian, American, French, British and many other nations war planes sharing the same air space, and not always communicating their intentions to each other it caused even more confusion.  For instance, at one stage, there were reports that Russian and American war planes were operating within two nautical miles of each other, which traveling at up to 400mph is not many seconds separation distance. On top of this, the western world saw Russia as trying to prop up a long-term ally who was fading.

However, as time moved on Russia seems to be cooperating with other countries with regard to actively assisting with a roadmap to peace. Their announcement of a withdrawal coincides with peace talks between the major sides in the civil war. But are Russia’s intentions as clear as they look?

As you delve deeper, you can see that Russia will still be keeping its presence in the country, including any military bases it has gained during its short campaign in the country. They will still be maintaining the same contingent as they did before, which will include ground troops and attack aircraft, so we must remember it is a scale back and certainly not a withdrawal. Indeed, President Putin has said that if required he would be able to redeploy within several hours to deal with an escalation if required. So what is seen as a withdrawal can also be seen as a break in combat to assist peace talks.

It is several days since the announcement and people have started to remember that it was only very recently that Russia walked into and are still currently occupying the Crimea. There is also, what can be safely called a proxy war by Russia occurring in the east of Ukraine and despite a ceasefire, there are exchanges of fire from both sides most days. So while some may well see Russia as a possible peace maker with regard to the Syrian situation, there is still a huge sticking point on the eastern borders of Putin’s country. But is this pull out to help draw attention from the issues in the east? As we have seen before, causing a distraction over here to make progress over there has gotten Russia into the Ukraine, and while this pull out is not on the same scale as an invasion it is still a potential distraction. The current position they are now in allows them quick military response on two sides of their country. And with Turkey looking to at possible EU integration, it will be another sign that Russia is being surrounded by western powers and ultimately NATO.

But what are Putin’s intentions? To show the west that he has the ability to react quickly if required to? Show the rest of the world that he is more interested in peace in Syria than the United States, or to distance himself from President Assad should peace talks collapse and the rebel’s or indeed IS make irreversible gains across the remains of Syria? Whatever his reasoning is we, the west, must remember that Russia as a world super power can still be very unpredictable, and will go to the end of the world to protect its national interests.

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