Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered partial withdrawal of his forces from Syria after almost two years of operations against terrorists in the country. Putin announced that Syria, with help from the Russian army, was successful in defeating and destroying the Islamic State, and had taken control back from group in most parts of the country.
Putin made this announcement in a surprise visit to Syria. The visit carried great significance because it was the first of its kind by a head of state since the war in Syria started seven years ago.
It was in 2015, when Assad, on the cusp of losing total control of his country, asked for Russia’s help, which subsequently resulted in the first Russian strike against IS in September that year. Not only did Russian operations turn the tide in Assad’s favour, but many believe that the operation was a major factor in establishing Russian influence in the region.
“The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part been solved and solved spectacularly,” said Putin during his remarks and speech in Syria. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you….. if the terrorists again raise their heads, we will deal such blows to them they have never seen”, Putin further added.
The battle for the liberation of Syria was highlighted by key events and smaller victors over the period of two years. The liberation of Aleppo – Syria’s largest city – was the first major victory for Russian and Syrian forces in 2016. Before the Russian intervention, the city was divided into two equal halves controlled by Syrian forces and IS. However, a bloody war, aided by shelling, bombing and tactical operations, saw the liberation of the city and exodus of IS in December 2016.
Also, the recapture of Deir ez-Zor city proved to be symbolic for Syrian victory in November 2017, due to the city’s siege by IS for more than three years. The siege for the city was finally broken in early September 2017. Russia considered the victory in the city a turning point in the war against IS, however it also lost high ranking military officers during the operation as a result of shelling from the IS. In addition to this victory, all the major settlements alongside the Euphrates River had also been liberated by the end of November 2017.
With the relative success of both the Russian and Syrian forces in the country, it is yet to be seen what the future, in terms of peace, has in store. Russia has already spearheaded peace efforts, calling on regional powers such as Iran and Turkey, to help negotiate a peace deal between the Syrian rebels and the Assad government. There are also suggestions of arranging a National Congress, in Sochi, Russia, to bring together members from all sections of the Syrian society to come up with recommendations for long-lasting peace in Syria.
New developments and success in the Syrian conflict also present a dilemma for both Russia and Iran, who have conveniently joined hands in Syria against IS. It is yet to be seen how Russia – also furthering its ties with Saudi Arabia and Israel – would keep a balance with Tehran in wake of its growing ties with two arch rivals of Iran.