Moscow: Russian media today hailed as a political victory President Vladimir Putin’s surprise decision to start withdrawing armed forces from Syria as UN-backed peace talks resumed in Geneva.
“Russia is setting an example of a peaceful approach to settling conflict,” the pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily said on its front page. “By announcing the withdrawal, Moscow has serious grounds to present the Syrian campaign as (a) victory,” Kommersant newspaper said.
Citing several high-ranking sources at the defence ministry, Kommersant said Putin’s decision to announce the partial withdrawal of troops after a five-and-a-half-month aerial campaign was not “spontaneous.”
Helping ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to win back the whole of his war-ravaged country could have taken years, it said, adding “there were no guarantees whatsoever that this would have worked out.”
The brutal five-year conflict in Syria that has already cost some 270,000 lives. Kommersant said by continuing to play an aggressive role, Russia would have alienated key regional players such as Turkey and the Gulf states.
Liberal business daily Vedomosti said Moscow could have been caught in a lengthy conflict. “It appears the Kremlin took into account the risk of a repeat of Vietnam and Afghanistan when military campaigns which initially were planned to be short-term stretched over many years,” Vedomosti said.
Political analyst Georgy Bovt, speaking on Business FM radio, said Russia never planned to save the Assad regime “at all costs.”
“If we are honest, the task was to overcome (Russia’s) international isolation over the Ukraine crisis,” he said, referring to a separatist war in eastern Ukraine between government troops and pro-Russian insurgents that the Krenlin is accused of fuelling.
“And this has been implemented in full. Our return to big geopolitics has taken place.” But the media also stressed that nothing prevented Putin from sending Russia’s armed forces back to Syria if needed. “Russia leaves but also stays,” said online newspaper Gazeta.ru, pointing out that its military bases in Hmeimim and Tartus will keep operating.
But the opposition Novaya Gazeta said the withdrawal could not be termed a victory, with the campaign costing ruptured ties with Turkey and the lives of 224 civilians killed when a Russian plane was bombed over the Sinai Peninsula in October.
Islamic State jihadists claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was revenge for Moscow’s campaign in Syria.
“The most worrying question is, what next?” said Novaya Gazeta, adding that Russians over the past months have grown used to massive television propaganda extolling Moscow’s military victories