I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished. That is why I order to start withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow,” Putin said on March the 14th, during a meeting with Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“In a short period of time Russia has created a small but very effective military group in Syria. The effective work of our military forces allowed the peace process to begin,” Putin said, adding that “Russian government troops and [Syria’s] patriotic forces have changed the situation in the fight with international terrorism and have ceased the initiative.
It remains to be seen by what Putin means when saying “the main part of our military group”, but it is unlikely that this declared pull-out could change anything with respect to Turkey’s “inability” to conduct air raids in Syria to deter Syrian Kurds should they try to fill the vacuum in ISIS controlled territories in the Northern Syria.
President Vladimir Putin said on Monday “the main part” of Russian armed forces in Syria would start to withdraw, and instructed his diplomats to step up the push for peace as U.N.-mediated talks resumed in Geneva on ending the five-year war.
Syria announced President Bashar al-Assad had agreed on the “reduction” of Russian forces in a telephone call with Putin. Western diplomats urged caution and the anti-Assad opposition expressed bafflement, with a spokesman saying “nobody knows what is in Putin’s mind”. Russia’s military intervention in Syria in September helped to turn the tide of war in Assad’s favor after months of gains in western Syria by rebel fighters, who were aided by foreign military supplies including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles.
Putin’s announcement – made without any advance warning to the United States – dropped out of the blue. At a meeting with his defense and foreign ministers, Putin said Russian forces had largely fulfilled their objectives in Syria. But he gave no deadline for the completion of the withdrawal and said forces would remain at a seaport and airbase in Syria’s Latakia province.
What Putin will not withdraw from Syria
The critical advantage Putin had in Syria to led him to play the robbery with insolence was the air supremacy he had over the Syrian airspace in Northern Syria.
Russian military was able to conduct 25 to 30 air-to-ground attack and close air support missions a day thanks to effective air defense systems Russia deployed to Hmeymim Airfield. The S-400 Air Defense System in Hmeymim Airfield, which most likely to stay in Syria for an indefinite time, ensured the Russian air supremacy over the area of operations in Syria deterring both U.S. led coalition aircraft and Turkish Air Force to cross the Turkish-Syrian border into Syria without prior coordination with Russian forces in Syria.
Another key force multiplier Russia will not withdraw so quickly might be Cruiser “Moskva”, afloat off the coast of Syria, close to Turkish territorial waters. Moskva Missile Cruiser is armed with S-300 Air Defense Systems to cover Russian Naval assets in eastern Mediterranean, including Russia’s sole aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetzov”.
We can also confidently say that Russia will leave behind a modest air-to-ground attack capability consisting of 12-14 SU-25 Frogfoot close air support aircraft to keep support pro-Assad forces should the peace talks fail. We will witness that the first batch of aircraft witdrawn from Syria will consists of SU-34 multi-role fighters.
Implications of Turkey’s Risk Indicators
In a nutshell, there will almost nothing will change in the southern front. Russia will still be able block Turkish air incursions into Northern Syria with the massive air defense capability it deployed to Hmeymim Airfield and Moskva Missile Cruiser off the coast of Syria.
To protect its declared “redlines” in Syria, Turkey was only able to shell the Kurdish rebels in Northern Syria with unguided artillery systems, effectiveness of which cannot even be compared to potential air raids. That said, Russian withdrawal is not likely to empower Turkey’s military capability to intervene in Syria to conduct an air campaign to deter Kurdish rebels to gain new territory.
Consequently, Turkey’s Armed Aggression and Terrorism/Security risk indicators are likely to remain the same, in light of Putin’s latest trick to “pull-back” from Syria.