Putin Shuns Syrian ‘Quagmire’

Exclusive: Gambling that President Obama will cooperate in seeking peace for Syria, Russian President Putin called back much of Russia’s military force dispatched to Syria last fall, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s abrupt announcement that Russia would begin “the withdrawal of the main part” of its military “contingent” from Syria has been widely seen not only as a welcome surprise, but also as a hopeful fillip to serious negotiations to end the carnage in what is left of that beleaguered country.

As always, a modicum of skepticism is warranted the “morning after,” but the pledge to pull out the bulk of the Russian force seems genuine and, at this writing, the withdrawal is already under way. Putin’s announcement appears to mark the beginning of the end of Russia’s key but limited military intervention – the game-changer that started on Sept. 30, 2015, with Russian air strikes that enabled the Syrian army to regain lost ground, sever jihadist supply lines to Turkey, and drive rebels from hundreds of towns and cities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

Putin was clear in noting the Russian military presence that will remain in Syria, but was not so clear on its future use: “Our naval base in Tartus and airbase at Khmeimim will operate ‘as usual’. They are to be safely protected from land, sea, and air.”

This formulation presumably would allow for continued airstrikes on designated terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, including during the current “cessation of hostilities” negotiated by the U.S. and Russia. (Putin’s phrasing may also be viewed as a warning against Turkey and/or Saudi Arabia not to act on recent threats to invade Syria.)

That said, many knowledgeable observers have expressed surprise that the partial cease-fire that went into effect on Feb. 27 has largely held. Plus, the rate of airstrikes reportedly has plunged since then.

A New Future

With all due respect to Yogi Berra’s dictum – “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” – Putin’s withdrawal order constitutes Part II of the game-changer put in play five and a half innings ago last September. Thus, it is now doubly the case that “The future ain’t what it used to be.” In essence, the ball is now bouncing around in President Barack Obama’s infield.

A great deal will depend on whether he will risk incurring the wrath of “allies”-cum-wealthy-arms-customers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel, as well as unpredictable Turkey – an actual NATO ally (sans-quotation-marks), by applying unstinting pressure to get them to stop supporting terrorists in Syria.

On Monday, Putin said he considered the tasks given to the Russian defense ministry last September, “as a whole,” fulfilled. He had defined those tasks on Oct. 11, 2015, on Russian TV: “Our objective is to stabilize the legitimate authority [in Syria] and create conditions for a political compromise.”

Russia’s armed intervention did strengthen the position of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but – not surprisingly – political compromise toward peace remains elusive. Still, the altered circumstances have advanced the peace process, in part, because Moscow’s intervention last fall was met with a clear-headed response from President Barack Obama, who chose to see a glass-half-full in Russia’s intervention.

It was no secret that one key Russian aim was to rescue Assad from a possible defeat at the hands of the jihadist “Army of Conquest” freshly armed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, including with U.S.-made TOW missiles. But even benighted White House advisers seemed able to discern that the devil-they-knew (Assad) might be preferable to the cutthroats of Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) or Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Nusra Front.

To his credit, Obama bet on the possibility that Russian airstrikes would also help thwart further ISIS gains and perhaps even help lead to serious negotiations. Thus, Obama instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to (1) forgo the poison-pill “Assad-must-go” precondition to talks on Syria’s future; (2) set a place for Iran at the table; and (3) collaborate closely with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to “deconflict” airstrikes over Syria and redouble efforts to get serious negotiations under way.

With uncommon speed, a meeting attended by representatives of 19 regional and global powers (including Iran) was held in Vienna on Oct. 30, 2015, one month after the Russian airstrikes began; on Dec. 18, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a road map and timeline for talks on Syria; and on Feb. 1, 2016, indirect talks between Syrian government and opposition leaders took place in Geneva, mediated by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

Those Geneva talks made zero progress; they were quickly suspended and resumption was put off for several weeks. They got under way again on Monday, which was not only the day Putin chose to announce the Russian withdrawal, but also the day that unarmed street protests broke out five years ago in Syria and were cruelly crushed by Assad’s security apparatus.

Will Talks Make Progress?

Just as Moscow’s military intervention put Assad back on his feet, the Russian pullout is likely now to make him wobblier, and Moscow may hope the withdrawal will put additional pressure on him to be more willing to compromise. One positive sign has come from those Syrian opposition leaders who have already voiced cautious praise for the Russian withdrawal.

The telephone conversation between President Obama and President Putin on Monday evening suggests that they remain willing to build on the cessation of hostilities and lean on their respective clients to negotiate in good faith, even though the obstacles remain formidable.

For example, Foreign Minister Lavrov had this to say on Monday about the resumption of the talks in Geneva: “The work is not easy; it is yet to be understood how all these groups [taking part in the intra-Syrian talks] could gather at the same table together … but the process has gotten under way, and it is in our common interests to make it sustainable and irreversible.”

And according to the Russian news agency TASS, President Assad has told President Putin by telephone that he is ready to start a political process in Syria as soon as possible and that he hoped that eventual full-scale UN-mediated talks between Syrian government and opposition representatives in Geneva would produce concrete results.

A Calculated Decision

Putin is gambling that the interested parties – first and foremost, the U.S. – will put the heat on those over whom they have influence to make the cessation of hostilities stick and cooperate in thwarting the aims and actions of ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Russia’s decision on a troop pullout having been unilateral, Putin retains the option to reinsert Russian forces should the gamble fail. It seems clear that he would prefer not to have to do that. And he is unlikely to do that, short of a rapidly growing threat from terrorists, trained and equipped for violence in Syria, returning to stir up trouble in Russia.

Putin is acutely aware of quagmires. The Soviet Union got bogged down in one in Afghanistan and, of course, he has watched what he calls “partners” get stuck there as well – not to mention Iraq, or Syria, or Libya – much less Vietnam. Last October, when President Obama and Secretary Kerry chose to warn Putin about quagmires, I can imagine the look on the Russian President’s face.

The Russian withdrawal bespeaks an understanding that risky gambles are less to be feared than quagmires – the more so since Moscow lacks one of its “partner’s” seemingly inexhaustible source of funding for its military escapades that result in quagmires. Indeed, Moscow has already announced a five percent cutback in military spending for this year.

Typically, when responding to provocations (like the February 2014 coup in Ukraine) from “partners,” as well as to other dangers to Russia’s security interests, Putin has displayed a notable penchant for heeding dicta more contemporary than those of Yogi Berra. One of them seems to be President Obama’s favorite motto: “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  During his 27-year career at CIA he was chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).  


21 comments for “Putin Shuns Syrian ‘Quagmire’

  1. TA
    March 23, 2016 at 16:26

    The partial withdrawal of the Russian arm forces from Syria is a debatable issue right now. One claim Mr. Putin to act recklessly in fear of failure while others consider such steps a wise policy.
    In the current situation I consider Russian partial withdrawal a reasonable policy. First of all, Russian “partners” are refusing to take any serious measures in terms of settling Syrian crisis. As it was mentioned that negotiations worked out no solution. And to be the only player on the battlefield is not just difficult but expensive as well.
    Secondly, Russia did a lot to trigger the cessation of hostilities in the region: Asad got his feet back on the ground, most of supply of gas and oil are destroyed.
    Thus, it makes sense for Russia to act this way. And we have to accept the fact that even if “Putin walked on water, he would be criticized for not knowing how to swim”

  2. David Smith
    March 17, 2016 at 11:17

    President Putin’s trademark is the unexpected, sudden, bold move (but never rashly, a goal always in mind). He learned this in martial arts, where a sudden bold move alone can often carry the day. He also learned never to become “fixed”. He always uses the military for a limited, attainable political goal. All his actions follow this pattern. A ” quagmire” was never a possibility as a “quagmire” only occurs with ground troops. Air Only means quick entry and quick exit. The “why?” of the withdrawal relates to both Syria and Ukraine. In 2015, Ukraine did not renew it’s failed invasion of Donesk/Lugansk, a major mistake, but Ukraine has one last chance in 2016. Putin waited out the summer in 2015, when an invasion would happen, and committed to Syria in October, when it was obvious it would not. Putin has withdrawn from Syria in time to deal with a Ukrainian invasion of Donesk/Lugansk, which could happen May or June, or any time this summer. If Ukraine does not act by September, Russia can return to Syria. The withdrawal also relates to the vexingly complex situation in Syria. If Syria and Russia approached Turkish border, Turkey would invade, a purposefull provocation, resulting in a US Navy blockade of Syria ” for the sake of world peace”. The Russian withdrawal, and the “cessation of hostilities”, is clear signal that negotiations must be serious. For Syria, the most important thing to attain in negotiations is an agreement that Turkey will not invade, guaranteed by The United States.We can only watch how negotiations, and events in Ukraine, proceed over the summer.

  3. Tristan
    March 16, 2016 at 22:19

    It is not often that one can find such succinct reportage. It is so very interesting that Pres. Putin had a plan, implemented it, and is now in respect to its effect, seeking to find the intended resolution. This type of action, designed around a defined (achievable?) objective, is foreign to most westerners, especially the consumer/citizens of the U.S.

    As weapons and war have become the primary source of profiteering from manufacturing in the U.S., we have seen that continued/unending conflicts are indeed a boon to those of the Military Congressional (Industrial) Security Surveillance State. That the leader of a nation can commit that nation to a political resolution, with the judicial use of force, limited to specific achievable objectives, which should result in diplomacy to resolve the situation is not something the American public is familiar with.

    As Mr. McGovern indicates the risks remain high. However it is significant that an example has been made to those in powerful political postion that there are possibilities beyond just force, demands to accede, red lines, and capitulation or destruction (in polite company it’s “regime change”). The war mongers are fast eluding the illusions of their proposed goals of peace and democracy. The U.S. must either do that which is required as a civilized nation or be known forthwith and emphatically for what it is. The Ferengi Alliance, where the Rules of Acquisition are the end all.

  4. Joe L.
    March 16, 2016 at 18:25

    Ray, well for me I do believe that it was really Russia going into Syria that has brought about this ceasefire. I believe that had not Russia gotten involved in Syria that the US, and allies, would feign bombing ISIS and Al Nusra meanwhile hoping that these factions would pull off the regime change that they so desire. I think a very dirty game by the US, and the west along with Middle Eastern proxies, is playing out in the Middle East. Whenever I hear about “red lines” or “Assad must go” I harken back to the video from US 4-star General Wesley Clark in 2007 about US plans to overthrow the governments of 7 countries – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Then I remember reading an article in the Daily Beast about VP Joe Biden apologizing to Turkey for in essence telling the truth about Turkey, Saudi Arabia etc. funding and arming ISIS and Al Qaeda. One other thing that I found curious, especially with all this talk of a Plan B, is that Judicial Watch did a Freedom of Information suit and acquired a document from the Depart of Defense from, I believe, August 12, 2012 which basically states that the “supporting powers” actually want a partition in Syria if they fail with their “regime change” plans.

    I just find all of this all so twisted and I believe that either the west is directly supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda or we are doing so through our support for Turkey and Saudi Arabia. What I find most sad is that millions upon millions of people have had their lives destroyed all across this region but our politicians care little. I think that had we not had this huge refugee crisis along with Russia’s intervention then it would just be endless war until Assad was overthrown and US, western, puppets were installed. If this was ever really about people, this would have been over years ago when Putin suggested peace talks, or maybe it never would have happened in the first place. Sadly, I believe that what we are seeing in the Middle East is a declining Empire trying to stave off its’ decline by grabbing as much as it can get – resources, pipelines to Europe, the US Petrodollar etc. Also in doing so it needs to get rid of Europe’s major energy source, being Russia, and create a rift which will allow for easier passage of TTIP. Twisted geopolitics…

  5. Steve Naidamast
    March 16, 2016 at 15:30

    I am not completely convinced that President Putin is simply pulling out his military forces from Syria, though it may appear that way.

    Putin is a brilliant strategist and I suggest that his current withdrawal is to areas in Russian territory where they could be quickly redeployed if necessary. Thus, Putin can take a “wait & see” attitude as to which way the wind will be blowing with the current peace talks while at the same time appear to be offering an olive branch for the nations involved in these discussions.

    If things go south and the fighting resumes I expect Russia will be back in the fray quite quickly and efficiently. The idea behind Russia’s intervention in the first place was to bring some stability to the Assad regime but it was also to protect Russia’s interests in the region both as it regards Syria as an ally and the warm water port that Syria provides Russian naval forces.

    Given the constant duplicity by the US and other mid-east regimes, I suspect that Russia will be returning to the fight…

  6. elmerfudzie
    March 16, 2016 at 12:42

    The abrupt withdrawal of Russian forces suggests an imminent danger added to the logistical equation in Syria. Perhaps Mohammed bin Salman has taken possession of a tactical nuke or two from sympathetic field commanders in the Pakistani Army. I’ve read some wheres that, in the distant past, our military Intel (DIA?) were allowed to tour the location and security of these mini nukes (MADAM?SADAM’s)…. back in the ‘ol days of rapprochement during the Reagan years? I suggest here that timely Intel was exchanged “on the hot line” between Putin and O’bomber, something to the effect that, the House of Saud is completely off the reservation and now desires to nuke Assad, the only remaining unknown is separating Assad’s duplicates from the real intended target. Hold your breath world, and pray that all this theorizing is poppycock!

  7. March 16, 2016 at 11:08


    Thanks for calling attention to the “?”s appearing in my piece. I need to explain – in a word, they are due, we think, to vestigial lingerings from the cyber attack of a week or two ago. For some reason, the Cyrillic/Russian translation of the most important words could not be handled by the software, at least at that point. The piece was one of the first analytic ones off the blocks, so to speak, so we decided not to delay by trying to fix it before posting it. Made sense, but the “?”s, so to speak, remain.

    The article was forwarded to a bunch of other experts on Russia, some of whom also were a bit confused by the (seemingly) random “?”s that appear in a few places. So I just sent what follows to the person who had done the forwarding.

    Many of the folks on your list will be aware of how important it can be to include the original Russian – particularly when disputes can and do arise later regarding what was actually said and how to interpret it. (What Marshal Grechko actually said in the late 80s about research/testing of ABM systems, and what it MEANT, for example).

    Suffice it to say that the policy-and-arms-makers succeeded in twisting Grechko’s words in such way as to “justify” the U.S. Star Wars ABM enterprise – the largest corporate welfare project in history. (When we honest analysts told the White House and Secretary Shultz the literal rendering of Grechko’s words, our reward was a stinging memo from CIA’s Deputy Director of Intelligence warning us to cease and desist, or else. His name was Bobby Gates.

    At the time, Gates actually violated the ethos of intelligence analysis by making public speeches, while he was still in the CIA, emphasizing the need for Star Wars. (And Gates has been no foreigner to the Boards of many a military-industrial complex corporation – what Pope Francis has labeled the “bload-soaked arms traders.”)

    So, in my view, it is ALWAYS a good idea to include the original authoritative Russian (like what Putin actually said, as opposed to what Fox News – or, in this case, even TASS English reported he said).

    Thus, I was disappointed when the software for some websites could not handle including the Cyrillic. Meticulously including the Russian, where I thought necessary, was one of the reasons it took an all-nighter to think through and draft that piece…. and I find that I AM getting a little old for that – particularly, when I have to teach later that day – as was the case yesterday.

    In any event, I shall past in below the paragraphs in my original draft into which I inserted the Russian. I hope it comes through this time.


    Putin Shuns Quagmire in Syria

    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s abrupt announcement yesterday that Russia would begin today “the withdrawal of the main part” (????? ???????? ?????) of its military “contingent” (???????????) from Syria has been widely – and, in my view, correctly – seen not only as a welcome surprise, but also as a hopeful fillip to serious negotiations to end the carnage in what is left of that beleaguered country.

    Putin was clear in noting the Russian military presence that will remain in Syria, but not so clear on their future use: “Our naval base in Tartus and airbase at Khmeimim will operate ‘as usual’ (? ??????? ??????). They are to be safely protected from land, sea, and air.” This formulation presumably would allow for continued airstrikes on designated terrorist groups like ISIS, including during the current “cessation of hostilities” negotiated by the U.S. and Russia.

    Putin said yesterday that he considered the tasks given to the Russian defense ministry last September, “as a whole” (? ?????), fulfilled. He had defined those tasks on Oct. 11, 2015 on Russian TV: “Our objective is to stabilize the legitimate authority [in Syria] and create conditions for a political compromise.” …

    Thanks again.

    Ray Ooops!

    Aaaaaaaarrrgggh! I just noticed that no Cyrillic came through. Let me simply offer the Russian to any readers who might be interested. (And thanks again, Peter, for calling attention to the “?”s.) My email address is on my website: raylmcgovern.com.

    • Peter Loeb
      March 17, 2016 at 04:26


      As usual, many thanks for your reply to my analysis “Mr. Putin’s
      Political Acumen”.


      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  8. Peter Loeb
    March 16, 2016 at 05:27


    Vladimir Putin has once again demonstrated his political acumen
    and international management skills.

    I doubt the “suprise” was as surprising to the White House as the
    media would have us believe. But the question marks (“??”‘s etc) are not
    warranted beyond our lack of much basic information at this
    time.That will undoubtedly become available to Consortium
    writers in time.

    Putin’s response is, in my opinion, a response on the ultra-
    conservative tone of the political campaigns in the US. It is
    more than a mere “temptation” for potential nominees
    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to highlight their
    bellicose anti-communism/anti-Russianism each in their own
    inimitable ways.

    Vladimir Putin has adeptly removed Russia as any campaign’s
    “Enemy No. 1.” Russia has supported Bashir al-Assad,
    has helped destroy the “rebels” which are not pro-Democracy
    as Washington wishes we would believe, but integral parts
    of al- Quaeda and other militant groups.

    Reflecting on it for a moment, Putin’s requirement to protect
    Russian bases now in Syria is reasonable. The US has more
    than 170 bases in many nations worldwide (the count
    varies with the sources) and would most certainly act to
    defend any bases by land, sea, and air.

    Through its actions, Russia has begun to cement its
    relationship not only with Syria but also with Iran and

    While the US may try to exert influence on Turkey, Saudi
    Arabia, Quatar etc. this has never been productive
    in the past. In particular, those representatives of
    militant organizations have already indicated that
    they will never—NEVER—compromise and recognize
    B. Assad’s sovereignty and right to rule. This has
    been their position in past failed conferences and
    remains their position. As an affiliate of al-Quaeda it
    is difficult to imagine their having any other take.

    The US public in both political parties is spoiling
    for a fight with Russia. This is no longer possible
    Russia has gone back to the UN bargaining table
    and an environment where they have established
    considerable power and management ability.

    As US campaigners rant again and again, the US
    is no longer the one and only world power. It has
    not been under Obama and would not be under
    either of the political candidates now most likely
    to become their party’s standard bearers.

    There is a special meaning for Israel. Israel has the
    support of the US Congress and its Members. It has
    less support internationally than it once had.
    Economic factors are only one reason both for
    the US and for the EU. Unilateral attacks on Syria
    and then Iran may still be good rhetoric in
    Israel. However with Russia securely esconced in
    Syria (if not actively fighting) no such attacks by Israel, the US
    or any other coalition seem immanent. All this despite the
    US-Israel PR to the contrary.

    “Yats” and Ukraine are falling to pieces especially the
    western part where the CIA sponsored coup was
    effected? Won’t the US bail its fallen “angel”??

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • Jerad
      March 17, 2016 at 02:33

      “It is more than a mere “temptation” for potential nominees
      Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to highlight their
      bellicose anti-communism/anti-Russianism each in their own
      inimitable ways.”

      I have to argue with this one quote from your post. Donald Trump has actually shown the most benevolence towards Putin and Russia of all the top candidates in either major party. Trump has also expressed skepticism of US interventionist policy to such an extent that he can arguably be seen as the least bellicose of the candidates.

  9. March 15, 2016 at 16:26

    The author correctly writes that “…political compromise toward peace remains elusive.”

    Turkey and Saudi Arabia will try their utmost to keep peace an elusive proposition. Turkish Premier Ahmet Davutoglu just met with HNC (High Negotiations Committee) general coordinator Riyad Hijab in Ankara. Riyad Hijab is the highest-profile Syrian defector (traitor) and probably also received the highest payout by Qatar. The HNC was formed following a Saudi-sponsored meeting in Riyadh of opposition political and military representatives, including hardline jihadists Ahrar al-Sham.

    FSA (Free Syrian Army) chief-of-staff Ahmed al-Berri told journalists that 36 rebel officials representing groups across Syria. including Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al-Sham, and Ahrar al-Sham would meet in Ankara to form a supreme military command and a unified operation room to coordinate between the FSA General Staff in Turkey and all opposition factions on the ground.

    According to al-Berri, the rebel representatives will reiterate their full support to the HNC.

    These people are not ready to compromise, and yet, despite all hurdles and stumbling blocks, despite constant obstruction, the position of the war party has been weakened and some sane minds at the negotiating table will grasp the straw, take the opportunity to offer compromises and advance workable solutions.

    There are still people in this world who yearn for peace, though they for sure don’t include weapons producers, war lords, mercenaries, and religious fanatics.

    I’m not an unconditional supporter of Russia and appalled by environmental crimes (especially in connection with oil and gas extraction), ruthless promotion of nuclear energy, exaggerated nationalism, cronyism, and social intolerance.

    But I admire the caution, foresight, and common sense of President Vladimir Putin.

    The Russian move to recall troops is the logical sequel of the ceasefire agreement, perfectly timed and terrific in its optics, highlighting the desire for peace and for a political solution, while at the same time keeping all options open if the other side chooses to betray the expressed goodwill by foul play and by restarting hostilities.

    Putin of course knows that the troop withdrawal will not be accepted as a goodwill gesture and will be not honored by a similar move of his Western opponents, but he has again foiled their war plans. Western strategists hate Putin because they have constantly to rewrite their plots.

    Western propagandists hate Putin for the same reason, as they need to constantly change the storyline.

    At the start of the Russian air campaign I predicted that the operation will be limited to four month and I’m surprised that it lasted five and a half month.

    The Russian intervention was a stunning success, because is turned the tide of the war and secured the survival of the Syrian government in only a few month with a comparatively small military force. With the Syrian air campaign Russia has reasserted itself as a major player on the world stage that has to be taken seriously and cannot be pushed around and humiliated.

    But Russia’s Western opponents are massing forces, looking for ways to hurt Russia and achieve the goal of regime change in Syria and beyond. There is a constant stream of supplies to rebel groups via Turkey, Jordan, and to a lesser extent Israel.

    Saudi Arabia delivered at least 500 Raytheon TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) anti-tank missiles to rebels and there are more to come (Saudi Arabia has stockpiled at least 13,000 TOWs). These TOWs have not been used against IS (Islamic State) or Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda), but to strike Russian-made tanks of the Syrian army as it fights against Jabhat al-Nusra and IS.

    Jabhat al-Nuslra just raided the weapons depots of CIA-supported FSA group Division 13, acquiring an unknown number of TOWs. Division 13 is after Harakat Hazzm and Division 30 already the third FSA group to act as a conduit of Western weapons flows to al-Qaeda.

    The Ukrainian crisis is also heating up as Kiev prepares a new offensive against Donetsk and Luhansk, raining shells and missiles on Gorlovka and occupying villages in the buffer zone, while OSCE observers are looking the other way, waiting for the moment, when Novorussian self defense or retaliation can be decried as breach of Minsk II.

    One has to keep in mind that NATO is confronting Russia in Europe, constantly increasing pressure by deploying additional troops and equipment on Russian borders.

    Putin is not a high risk gambler who makes one big bet, he makes cautious and well reasoned moves, he tries to hedge his bets.

    Maybe the Russian air force was running low on ammunition and the wear on airplanes gave rise to concerns. Russia cannot risk to expose weaknesses, it has to scale back military operations before the depots are empty and before planes fall from the sky.

    It can be that some of the recalled fighter jets will need a general overhaul and others will be retired to serve as replacement part depots.

    Russia has cut its 2016 defense budget by five percent and the overstretched weapons plants in 2015 failed to deliver some of the ordered equipment. Orders for 15 warplanes, eight navy ships, 240 armored vehicles, and various other weapons systems were unfulfilled.

    Russia cannot risk that the Western allies use their numerical superiority to grind down the Russian military in a war of attrition, it has to evade direct confrontation, it has to move constantly to avoid being pinned down.

    If the negotiations fail, the Russian military has at least got some breathing space to fill up depots and refurbish equipment.

    • Gregory Kruse
      March 15, 2016 at 18:34

      I am “appalled by environmental crimes (especially in connection with oil and gas extraction), ruthless promotion of nuclear energy, exaggerated nationalism, cronyism, and social intolerance” in America. Well it almost fits.

    • Bob Van Noy
      March 16, 2016 at 11:48

      I agree with your analysis Wolf Mato, especially on President Putin. I’ve been following his statements and those of Sergey Lavrov who I find to be the clearest speaker on this matter. I’m terribly worried however this morning with the advance of Hillary Clinton politically, and the prospect of a Clinton administration based on the revelations of her actions at State.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 16, 2016 at 19:39

      …it has to evade direct confrontation…

      One of the juicier theories would change the “has to” to “wants to”. It holds that Erdogan is getting ever more dangerous as he is backed into a corner, and might be about to do something crazy like a massive invasion of Syria. In that event Russia would want to hunker down and not have a lot of men and machines out where they would be immediately killed or captured forcing that nation into a much bigger war. A possible coordinated action with Israel invading from the South and Saudi-paid fighters from Lebanon would make it even worse.

      In fact, there are entire essays now speculating about what Russia is doing, and the speculations are getting pretty wild. We’ll probably find out sooner rather than later whatever it is that’s really happening.

  10. March 15, 2016 at 15:22

    Jesus, I think this is premature by at least a little……..
    I trust Putin alright, but not my own government and certainly not
    any of the rebel forces….

    2LT Dennis Morrisseau USArmy [armor – Vietnam era] ANTI-WAR retired.
    POB 177 W Pawlet, VT 05775
    802 645 9727 [email protected]

  11. Cassandra Dee
    March 15, 2016 at 14:31

    “but also the day that unarmed street protests broke out five years ago in Syria and were cruelly crushed by Assad’s security apparatus.”

    I have seen it reluctantly conceded that those unarmed street protests were no more unarmed that the “unarmed” Maidan protests. Think about who was on site at that time. Can you really imagine them watching from afar with such opportunities handed to them?

  12. March 15, 2016 at 14:29

    Thanks for this excellent and thorough analysis. Let’s have more papers like this one from Ray McGovern on this crucial website.

  13. Joey
    March 15, 2016 at 14:05

    “….one key Russian aim was to rescue Assad from a possible defeat…”
    With great respect to Mr. McGovern, may I slightly change the wording??

    “….one key Russian aim was to rescue Assad and his kin from having their heads chopped off, or from having bayonets inserted into their rectums…”

  14. Sally Snyder
    March 15, 2016 at 13:52

    Here is an article that looks at one of the emails that was on Hillary Clinton’s server about the situation in another Middle East nation:


    Somehow, Washington just can’t help but meddle.

Comments are closed.