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Russia's president Vladimir Putin famously announced on 2016, March the 14th, that Russian armed forces would leave Syria as "the six-month military intervention had largely achieved its objective".

Obviously, 20 months later, this has not happened. His motivations were perplexing at the time, but I am not sure I understand them any better with retrospect.

  • Have Russian commanders or exterior observators (NGOs, other governments...) reported any changes in the numbers or the nature of Russian forces on the ground that would confirm that any withdrawal actually occured, even partial or temporary ?

  • Has the Russian government ever announced that the retreat was postponed or canceled, and given reasons for that change of plans ?

  • Have notable claims been formulated that Putin's announcement was a bluff to begin with ? If yes, are there hints about his motivations for that bluff, and how did he benefit (if at all) from the announcement ?

  • Consp Theory ahead: Earlier in March of that year, the US had performed air-strikes in Syria and the primaries were just ahead. This enabled Putin to pitch Obama (and in connection the Democratic candidates, esp. Clinton) in a bad light, affecting the primaries. As can now be seen, there has been no reduction in forces, so Putin's statement should be taken for what it was: propaganda. – CGCampbell Nov 17 '17 at 20:10
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    I don't want to make a speculative answer, but two possible reasons stand out. One, Obama was in the lame-duck period of his presidency and giving him reason to pause might benefit Putin and Two, that was only 2 weeks after the first primaries. He might have wanted to make Russia look like less of a threat during the US election. My personal (guess) would be more towards the 2nd. He was clearly not a fan of Hillary because she was outspoken against him. "We're pulling out - Hillary is the war monger" is a direction Putin would have liked to turn the conversation. – userLTK Nov 18 '17 at 3:58
  • And Obama said that he will close the Guantanamo prison and withdraw the troops from Afghanistan. So what? All politicians say BS, and Putin is just one of them. – Matt Nov 19 '17 at 11:47
  • @Matt Most US troops have actually left Afghanistan, and we don't lack statements from Obama's administration to explain why the closure of Guantanamo has been regularly postponed (reasons that everybody is free to believe or not). Are there similar statements from Russian government? – Evargalo Nov 19 '17 at 11:54
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    Now try to count how many months did it take to withdraw "most troops" from Afghanistan, and then you have to acknowledge that Putin still has a lot of time. – Matt Nov 19 '17 at 12:17
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  He said Russia will begin withdrawing troops, and this was done to facilitate talks between government and rebels. In meantime, rebels supported by West still demanded that Assad steps down from power as a first condition of even begin the talks. This of course could not happen, ceasefire was broken (again mainly by rebels), so called "moderates" disappeared and currently FSA is made mostly by various jihadi groups.

  Therefore, Russia now pursues policy of actively forcing anyone fighting Assad's government to either stop doing that or be destroyed. That does not mean there would not be talks, but they will be held once military operations are complete (first against IS and then other jihadists ) .

  • He said Russia will begin withdrawing troops : has it happened ? so called "moderates" disappeared AFAIU, a lot of them physically disappeared from Assad's jails to make place for more. (anyway, not the subject here) That does not mean there would not be talks, but they will be held once military operations are complete AFAIK, talks are been held regularly in Astana and in Geneva, regardless of military operations. – Evargalo Nov 20 '17 at 7:57
  • to facilitate talks between government and rebels : Do you have any source showing that this is the stated goal of Russian authorities ? This would be totally on topic. – Evargalo Nov 20 '17 at 8:05
  • From the quoted article: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has abruptly declared that he is withdrawing the majority of Russian troops from Syria, saying the six-month military intervention had largely achieved its objective. You're right - the article states that he will begin to withdraw a majority; it doesn't say the entire force. Good catch. – FalseHooHa Nov 20 '17 at 15:38
  • @FalseHooHa : but Russia clearly hasn't withdrawn a majority of troops. I would welcome any source claiming he has withdrawn any troops. – Evargalo Nov 23 '17 at 8:57
  • @Evargalo I don't think they did withdrawn troops. They probably planned to so if talks were effectively started ( in a realistic way to end the war). No successfull talks, no reason to remove the troops. – xrorox Dec 12 '17 at 17:46

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