The withdrawal of Russian troops from the Syrian conflict has taken many by surprise.
Some commentators have noted the surgical nature of the world’s largest country’s intervention into Russia. The goals of the intervention – to strengthen the Assad regime’s hand at the negotiating table – look like done deeds.
The sum total of the intervention was five months. Russia will remove its ground troops but remain in control of a naval base in the coastal Mediterranean province of Latakia (as well a naval refueling station in Tartus).
Speculation has it that Putin wanted to avoid a costly, drawn-up military struggle, given the tanking Soviet economy and sanctions over the Ukraine, which are still biting.
Observers from Washington will be watching with some envy, after the dithering about intervention into Syria from the Obama administration. The United States has consistently linked military intervention with nation building – and has been reluctant to get dragged into another Iraq in Syria.
Russian maneuvering has been largely responsible for a ceasefire agreement in Geneva which has halted the flow of weapons into Syria. A report in the Middle East Eye stated that “the entire armed opposition has thus been shut down in Syria on the insistence of the United States”.
A future role for Assad in government looks increasingly assured (although what shape this role will be is up for grabs) . The United States has refused to entertain the idea of Assad’s future leadership, largely because of human rights concerns, namely the use of chemical weapons by Assad on Syrian civilians.
Human rights officials have already called for justice on both sides as part of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry.
A United Nations Security Council resolution referring the conflict to the International Criminal Court was blocked by China and Russia in May 2014. A subsequent resolution made no mention of criminal justice in the roadmap to peace.