MEDFORD, MA – Retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, who served as head of both the U.S. Europe Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Command Europe – the only Navy officer to hold those positions – and who is now Dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law in Medford, MA, a small city that is part of the Greater Boston Area, commented to BBC about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unexpected decision to remove troops from Syria only months after having deployed them.
The Greek-American ex-Navy officer told BBC that Putin’s main objective was to keep Assad in power and that the Russians “are fairly confident that they’ve attained that part of the outcome. This shows us that they’re feeling pretty good as they go into the [peace] talks that are undergoing right now.
Stavridis strongly emphasized that Russia’s objective was to help Assad and that “no serious observer thought for a moment” that Russia’s real aim was to defeat ISIS. “It was all about propping up a puppet and demonstrating to the world the power of Putin and that Russia lives up to its commitments, drawing a contrast to what some might perceive as U.S. posture in the region.”
But why pull out now? “I would say it’s financial” Stavridis said, pointing out that the operation costs Russia “millions and millions and millions of rubles, which are losing value, and compounded by the low prices on oil, the Kremlin is feeling the pinch.
SOME GOOD SIGNS
Although Stavridis does not necessarily see Russia’s withdrawal as a pathway to peace, he says some good things are happening, such as peace talks underway, a reduction in violence, relief convoys’ access to about half of the intended locations,” but the big sticking point is Assad: “the Syrian opposition says he must go, the Russians say he will stay.” And how those two points are reconciled, Stavridis says, will be a big challenge for Secretary of State John Kerry at the peace talks.