Pavel Felgenhauer, military journalist:
Pavel Felgenhauer said that the drawdown was a “brilliant tactical move” on Putin’s part. Putin has been able to frame a partial withdrawal—about 10 percent of Russia’s military assets in the country, mostly warplanes that can be returned to Syria in just hours—as a victorious end to a limited, focused military campaign.
He said that Russia needed to do something to protect its warplanes at the recently expanded air base in Syria’s Latakia Province as the local sandstorm season gets under way.
“The fleet remains; antiaircraft systems remain; the tanks remain; all the marines remain; the helicopters remain; some of the aircraft will remain,” he said. “Only some of the aircraft and their service personnel are being taken out. And they can come back, of course, in the space of three or four hours.”
“It really is a brilliant move to call something by another name,” he added. “It is as if it started to rain and we announced a program to clean the city. And it was done very skillfully because really everyone has been stunned and people are convinced that we really are leaving Syria.”
Vladimir Frolov, foreign-affairs analyst:
In a March 15th analysis on Slon.ru, Vladimir Frolov suggested that Moscow now thinks the partition of Syria—with President Bashar al-Assad or an Alawite ally retaining control over the coastal regions—would be an acceptable outcome to the Syrian crisis. “In the event of an emergency, [that region] would be easier to control and defend.”
Frolov said that the most important political goal of Russia’s Syria operation was the reestablishment of the former geopolitical parity between Russia and the United States that was the norm in Soviet times.
“The strategic goal of the ‘Syrian gambit’—restoring the ‘bipolar format’ of Russian-American relations … has almost been reached,” Frolov wrote. And “the new bipolarity of Russian-American relations over Syria” can become “a template for working out new rules of the game in a broader sense and in other regions—for instance, in Ukraine.”
Vladimir Milov, opposition politician and former deputy energy minister:
In a blog post on March 16th, Milov wrote that Russia is more committed to keeping Assad or someone close to him in power than ever before. After Russia’s nearly six-month campaign of air strikes, any opposition-controlled Syrian government would certainly be strongly anti-Russian. He said that, if Putin allows Assad to be ousted, then the whole operation in Syria and all its negative consequences including the rupture in relations with Turkey would be pointless.
Milov also cited an interview that Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister gave to German media in which he said his government was considering supplying surface-to-air missiles to anti-Assad forces as a possible motive for Russia to stop its air campaign as the peace talks in Geneva begin.