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Russian President Vladimir Putin To Withdraw Majority Of Troops From Syria
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Russian President Vladimir Putin To Withdraw Majority Of Troops From Syria

Middle East

Russian President Vladimir Putin To Withdraw Majority Of Troops From Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin To Withdraw Majority Of Troops From Syria
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Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday he will withdraw the majority of Russian troops from Syria starting on Tuesday. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, about what's behind this move.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today that he is withdrawing most of Russia's troops from Syria. In Russian state media, Putin said the goals of the Russian intervention had been achieved, and the pullout would begin tomorrow. President Putin also spoke with President Obama about the move, and Mr. Obama said he welcomed the reduction in violence.

Russian warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes in Syria since late September. Today's news came as peace talks between Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition reconvened in Geneva. For more on what this signals, we're joined now by Joshua Landis. He's director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Welcome to the program once again.

JOSHUA LANDIS: It's a pleasure being on, Robert.

SIEGEL: Vladimir Putin says he's withdrawing the main part of Russia's troop deployment to Syria. What do you think he means by that?

LANDIS: Well, it's not quite clear, but I - but he's sending, in a sense, three messages, it seems to me. One, he's establishing that he's a statesman. He wants peace. He's willing to meet America halfway. He's also letting the people know at Russia - at home, mission accomplished. I'm decisive. I'm a leader. I've come. I've done what I got, and I need to go. I'm not going to get stuck in a quagmire.

Secondly, it's a shot across Assad's bow, in a sense. Assad's people were very confident only a week ago that Russia was going to take them all the way, help them reconquer all of Syria. In a sense, Russia's saying, we don't have to do that; we're not necessarily going to do that. Russia is not abandoning Assad in any way. They - Putin has made much too big an investment in Syria. But he's letting Assad know.

And third, it's a shot across America's bow. America does not want to work with Russia and Assad. That was one of the things, I think, that Putin wanted to get done in Syria - is to establish some form of cooperation. And just yesterday, Putin announced that he wanted to work with Russia to take Raqqah back, the capital of ISIS. And I don't think he's gotten an answer from the United States. The United States does not want to work with him and Assad. So in a sense, it's saying, you know, if we leave, you're going to be left holding the bag in Syria.

SIEGEL: Well, what do you make of his statement...

LANDIS: You need to cooperate with us.

SIEGEL: What do you make of his statement that Russia's goals have been achieved that is the mission-accomplished part of this? He went in to shore up the Syrian government, to shore up Bashar al-Assad. Has he done so? Is the Assad regime stronger today than it was, say, last summer?

LANDIS: It's a lot stronger. Russia really turned the balance of power. Assad was struggling. Now he's no - he's been on the offensive, and the rebels are in chaos. They've been back on their heels. They're fighting amongst each other. There's real depression amongst rebel ranks. So in that sense, the regime is solid.

Now, if Russia were really to let go, that could reverse itself. But the regime has new tanks. It has new artillery. It's got a lot of new training. We don't how many airplanes - fancy Russian airplanes are going to be left behind on this. And Russia's not leaving. They said - Putin said that both Latakia airbase at the port of Tartus would be working as normal, whatever that means. So he has changed the balance of power, but he is not going to abandon Assad.

SIEGEL: And while he is withdrawing, as you're saying, he is not saying to Assad, you're on your own from here on in.

LANDIS: No.

SIEGEL: Good.

LANDIS: Not at all.

SIEGEL: Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma, thanks for talking with us once again.

LANDIS: Good to be with you, Robert. Thanks for having me on.

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