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14 March 2016

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Prem

Secret deals are easy to welch on. That cuts both ways, of course.

gemini33

Thanks for the heads up about those comments by Biden in Israel. I can't find any transcript to see his full remarks. Maybe I can find a video.

turcopolier

gemini33

Haaretz covered the presser. pl

Ishmael Zechariah

Putin has eliminated the oil smuggling that was the lifeblood of the ISIS/DAESH cadres and has put the tayyiban Turkey into a box. For example, the latest explosion in Ankara can morph into many more explosions if tayyip does not behave and tries to play the Sultan. The Saudi clown prince was probably given sage advice about getting involved in Syria-and given his Yemen debacle, will probably heed it. IMO, in addition to an agreement on Ukraine/Donbass, there must have been deals on the refugees in Europe, as well as a partitioning of the ME into spheres of influence. Let us see what the Kurds will get out of this gambit. Interesting times and interesting history in the making.
Ishmael Zechariah

gemini33

Thanks, Col. I just found video and a transcript on Israel's govt. site.
Video at 16:44 he starts the excerpt about the Arab states having an epiphany and ends saying Russia "has seen the Lord".
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1IN7sKRr-Y

Transcript: http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2016/Pages/PM-Netanyahu-meet-with-US-Vice-President-Joe-Biden-9-Mar-2016.aspx

Thanks again for citing this. I would have missed it otherwise and I think it's pretty significant. He seems to be saying that they've all come to some kind of an agreement.

Nightsticker

Col Lang,

I think Putin's statement has to be parsed
very carefully. The Russian Navy base in Syria
is not leaving. Nor, presumably, the forces necessary
to operate it and protect it. This would include
some fighter aircraft and the air defense system.
I can't imagine that the training and logistical
support to the SAA will be withdrawn, it was there
in smaller numbers before the surge. The SOF forces
are, as far as I, know not officially there anyway.The
Intelligence support does not require a lot of people.
The Cease Fire Center personnel will remain.
It is not clear to me that all this is going to
make much difference on the battlefield.

Nightsticker
USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96

bth

I suspect there is also a linkage between a heightened US activity level in Iraq which started earlier this month that will lead to retaking Mosul and keeping pressure on ISIS for the next 3-6 months while the Russians regroup or downsize. Perhaps it also involves Sunni Arab tribes working with the US and Kurds in Iraq while holding the sectarian militias at bay and checking Turkish designs in northern Iraq. And then there is the question of there the 101st subgroup deployed to? There is some sort of Delta force related press announcement by Carter which is very difficult to figure out from immediate news releases.

Also perhaps there is something the US had done to calm down the Saudis. If all comes about then Lavrov and Kerry will deserve some accolades.

Wouldn't be surprised to hear 'the international community' has agreed to bankroll some major reconstruction work in Syria to 'avoid a humanitarian catastrophe' and also to bankroll the Italian reconstruction of the Mosul dam. Of course that means the US taxpayer will foot the bill, but that might be OK and a cheap trade.

Perhaps we are approaching a point later this month where a 3-6 month speculative assessment on SST is warranted.

Outrage Beyond

To append to Nightsticker's remarks, I think the key word in the headline is "start." What does that really mean? Starting doesn't imply any timetable to finishing. Russia could withdraw a token amount of forces and wait to see if the hidden bargain with the Borg is fulfilled on the other side. It's all phrased in a way that seems to leave plenty of options for Russia.

On top of that, Russia has demonstrated considerable cruise missile capabilities, along with the ability to launch airstrikes from Russian bases. Withdrawal or not, those options remain. Putin is talking softly while carrying the big stick.

Meanwhile, the SAA appears to have plenty of new gear. A number of videos showing T-90s have popped up; and after seeing the post on the Tiger force, I came across various videos of Tiger and/or Cheetah forces equipped with new-looking AK-74s; and using ATGMs to blast jihadis. Those S-400 systems probably aren't going anywhere, either.

Peter Deer

Pat,
I think the Russians have no plans to let up the pressure on the ground (the Russian Air Force has been doing a lot of that lately), and any significant changes in troop levels won't happen for a while yet. Perhaps Vlad is playing to the folks at home, announcing that Our Boys are coming back now that things are moving in the right direction vis a vis the rebels and ISIS/DAESH, while making a very gradual drawdown. On Putin's timetable. Toward that end, I would concur with Nighstalker's assessment of this news: unlikely to make much difference on the battlefield.

Pete

Patrick Bahzad

PL,

The plot thickens, if that is even possible ! For now we have the announcement of a withdrawal of the ground component of the (small) Russian expeditionary force. Airbase and naval base in Tartus and Hmeimim, as well as assets there, will remain. There may very well be, as you suspect, a bargain with Ukraine in the pipes ... Would not be surprising as such.
Meanwhile, short term, this move puts a lot of pressure on the western and gulf countries which support the "opposition". Putin showing such good faith will surely not be answered by a perfidious escalation by either the GCC or Turkish proxies, will it ? Negotiations will now start with palmyra being the most likely battle to continue, and possibly end with an R+6 victory. Regardless of its immediate outcome, ISIS will be rooted out in a joint or combined effort by both coalitions, not much doubt about that.
Also have to consider that Assad has scheduled elections for April, even if he might postpone after negotiations. He has to show a credible election with strong enough opposition votes, or he won't have any credibility come the presidential elections of 2017.
Big question mark about the idlib area now is whether SAA plans to pull if off on its own. With Russian air support and an end of other fronts, they certainly might. We shall see if their 4th assault corps has reached battle strength.
Interesting times ahead ...

The Twisted Genius

Ah Vladimir Vladimirovich, you sly mudak. And I mean that with great affection. You have maintained the initiative and used it to great advantage. You’re a game changer and a judo master. My guess is that we are in for some more surprises stemming from this announcement. I'm very curious as to what's the current relationship between Assad and the Rojava Kurds. Have they come to some mutual understanding that will lead to closer military cooperation against their mutual enemy. Perhaps a reenactment of the meeting on the Elbe, this time on the Euphrates.

Ingolf

This seems a reasonable take on what this move might entail:

http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/what-does-russian-syria-pullback-mean-and-entail/ri13356

cynic

The Russians have achieved their minimum objectives of propping up Assad in control of western Syria. They may now be tacitly ceding the rest to the Borg in exchange for concessions elsewhere, such as Ukraine. The Borg may thus also achieve their minimum objective in Syria. This may be why the Russians say it is possible the Americans might capture Raqqa, and why that mysterious uprising or re-badging of terrorists took place there recently.

C L

The Russian mission has achieved its primary goal - the creation of an economic safe haven on the Syrian coastal area with the Nusayriyah mountain range as a buffer zone, with security for its 2 mediterranean bases.
Further involvement Eastward is not needed or worth the financial cost. (Russia is hurting financially)

To the East the violence has finally penetrated Turkey (where Erdogan is trying to duplicate Putin’s novel circumvention of constitutional term limits by shuttling between the President / Prime minister / President roles).
Erdogan needed an external conflict as a distraction in order to pull off his power switch from PM to President while usurping the new PM’s power and appeasement of his religious base.

From the Russian viewpoint - Why assist a hostile regime whose chickens have come home to roost?
Let the secular turkish armed forces sort this out as their country implodes under religious intolerance.
There is enough Russian force to the north & south of the Bosporos to keep the sea lanes open. (their ‘Panama Canal’ scenario)

Further east the combined Shiite forces of Iraq/Iran and Kurds will serve to contain the Jihadi menace emanating from Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite menace will in turn be balanced by the nuclear Sunni Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia is the main reason not to venture further east:

Saudi Arabia is currently a Sunni Fundamentalist Black hole, consuming all Sunni goodwill and moderate discourse in the world through the tentacles of its Wahhabi outreach, sucking the indoctrinated in to its heart (Medina, Mecca) - only to spew them out on the North/South poles with all the billowing rage we see in actual photos of black holes . Northwards to the Mesopotamian badlands and the bowels of IS, South to the heart of Africa. And just like a black hole, there is no stopping it till it implodes on itself. There can only be containment of the burning regions. Further east of the M5 is a burning region.

The new Saudi ‘management’ is in the process of culling & bloodying its toy forces. What better way to weed out the fanatics & plumed fake soldiers from the real than having a controllable battle in the isolated region of Yemen. There is no risk of losing in this tribal battle because the Yemeni region can never be controlled by one tribe and so will never have enough consolidated power or force to upset the Kingdom power structure.
The Yemeni status quo will resume once the fighting stops.
The remains of the newly bloodied and tested Saudi forces can be restructured with total allegiance to the monarchy in its upcoming fight with the Mullahs/Jihadis. For the alliance with the Mullahs is at a gross imbalance and the Mullahs do have the power to overthrow the Monarchy.
The past appeasement of the Mullahs by funding the expansion of the wahabbi fundamentalist explosion has evolved to be the threat to the monarchy.
This threat was illuminated with the toppling of Mubarak and the (short) ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. The only feasible deterrent is loyal armed forces and return to the strongman regimes of yore.

For now containment to the north & south of Saudi Arabia is the order of the day, the Mesopotamian wastelands where Jihadis thrive are cordoned off except for the path to turkey.
South in to Africa is where the current jihadi expansion is occurring limited only by the distance to the heart of the black hole.

Look for Russia to bolster its defensive line in its southern satellite ‘Stan States in the mould of its defensive line around the Caucasus.

gemini33

The analyses and "hot takes" are rolling out. Joshua Grimes at Russia Insider says he doesn't see any "radical change" on the Syrian-Russian war effort since their aerospace force IS the "main part" of their forces in Syria, or so we thought. He thinks maybe this is at least in part a move to calm the nerves of Russians nervous that this will be another Afghanistan. I did think that myself too, plus it negates the repeated comments from Obama and Ash Carter about quagmires.
http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/what-does-russian-syria-pullback-mean-and-entail/ri13356

The Saker thinks Putin is a "hardcore realist" who set out limited goals and achieved them, but is leaving his options open, always keeping in mind that Russia is still a relatively weak military force.
http://thesaker.is/analysis-of-the-russian-military-pullout-from-syria/

Southfront has a source near the Russian FM who says Russia is trying to show a start contrast between the way they operate and the way the West operates.
https://southfront.org/putin-ordered-the-withdrawal-of-russian-forces-from-syria-from-march-15/

Andy

First we'll have to see if the withdrawal is actually what the Russians claim, it's not like they have a good track record on accuracy. However, I think a withdrawal now does make sense:

The Russian strategic interest in Syria is about ensuring Russian access to Syrian ports and other facilities. Without those, Russia cannot have any kind of major presence in the Mediterranean. Syria is all they have left since their Cold War options are gone (Libya and Serbia/Yugoslavia). Russia intervened only when rebel forces began making serious progress toward the coast and it appeared that Syrian government forces could lose the civil war. That was the catalyst for intervention. The Russian strategic position is now secure and if it's threatened again, Russia has staging facilities ready if another major intervention is necessary. Of course, this won't be a total withdrawal, so I suspect there will still be a significant Russian presence in terms of advisors, intelligence, special operations, and other technical support.

So, if that is the limit of Russian strategic interests, then it makes sense for them to withdrawal now and avoid the difficulty of doing the heaving lifting in the siege of Aleppo and beyond. I think Russia understands that Syria is broken and, likely Humpty Dumpty, cannot be put together again, so why pour blood and treasure for further gains that won't benefit Russia strategically? IMO they are smart and poor enough not to follow our example of endless quixotic nation-building. Plus, this will keep Assad on a short leash as the Syrian Government effectively becomes a Russian protectorate.

Then there is the US to consider. There's been a de facto coordination line to prevent incidents with the US. If Russia participates in pushing further north and east, they will have to account for American forces which brings up all sorts of political problems for both sides. I think both sides want to avoid a situation where one side's ground or air forces attack the other side causing an international incident. A Russian withdrawal avoids that very real risk. Plus it's not like the US can do much to roll-back Syrian government gains and it's pretty clear that US policy to overthrow Assad is now a complete fantasy.

As for Israel, personally I think this is the best outcome for them. Radical Islamists will not take over, destabilize Jordan and threaten Israel's border but Assad remains weak and unable to pose any kind of threat for the foreseeable future. Syria's allies in Hezbollah and Iran will continue to pour resources into Syria instead of preparing for another war on the Israeli/Lebanese border. Israel should be rejoicing.

Of course the losers in all of this are the Syrian people, who will continue to be the primary victims of this bloody conflict and a Russian withdrawal means this war is not ending anytime soon.

LeaNder

gemini33, its later for me, 17:50+starting with "Russia".

The script drops some matters from this intimate exchange between good friends. Peculiar show. ...

The "official script" for this private setting leaves out bits and pieces:


Biden: "I mean, that would not have come out of either one of our mouths - at least mine - four or five years ago, but the truth is Russia has seen the Lord on some of these issues as well."

Missing, is Bibi's interruption, and Biden's response:

Bibi: Why not use that phrase? (not 100%, partial guess, too lazy to listen again)

Biden: Well, I am not gonna use the other phrase.

******
The intimacy of power. There no doubt are other interesting passages. But Biden is almost unbearable to listen to.

gemini33

This is an interesting thought over at MoonofA. I do suspect that Erdogan won't last through the summer.
"If Turkey happens to be the target, the trap's been baited."
http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/03/putin-withdrawal-of-russian-forces-from-syria-starting-march-15.html#c6a00d8341c640e53ef01b7c8244dc5970b

Fred

So Putin withdrawals some veterans to Moscow where they can rest, recuperate and march in the May Day parade 6 weeks from now? Or will that be the May 8th parade that celebrates that other victory over our common enemy? (Not that we helped much this time around it seems) I wonder if he cut a deal to get Kerry or Biden a Nobel? Perhaps Obama gets a second to cement his legacy as a peacemaker? That would be a cheap price to pay for a victory over ISIS and our exit from the mess we made in Ukraine.

ex-PFC Chuck

If there is indeed something going on that includes Ukraine it may be driven by the EU members' discontent over the Ukraine government's foot-dragging in meeting its end of the Minsk bargain. The situation is extensively described in this piece at Russia Insider: "Europeans Staring at Total Failure in Ukraine"
http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/how-russias-coming-economic-recovery-and-government-crisis-ukraine-threaten-expose
The author argues that as long as the Banderaites are a part of the government it will be politically impossible for Ukraine to take the steps necessary. The author, Alexander Mercouris, asserts that powerful interests in northern Europe are increasingly worried about the damage the sanctions are doing to their economies, in contrast to Russia's where they are not having the predicted very severe effects. Perhaps the Europeans are leaning hard on the US, maybe even threatening to unilaterally drop them without US agreement.

PeteM

Say what you many about the Syrian Rebels but they have won the right, on the battlefield, to be recognized as the legitimate opposition to the Assad regime and Putin has played a major role in furthering that recognition.

If the frozen conflict, in western Syria holds, leaders of many of these various groups will be shaping the decisions leading to a transition government, post Assad and Russia's decision to promote these negotiations is evident in their ramping down of their military involvement at least on that front.

Bob

I read some where this morning that Lavrov had said he was working on a deal with the US where Russia would take Palmyra and the US would take Raqqa so you seem to be right. That gives Qatar it's gas pipeline to Europe so they can go F themselves now. I hope it gets blown up every night.

If Russia isn't going to Raqqa then there really isn't that much left for them to do. But as with the NATO experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to name just a few "withdrawal" can mean so many things.

"The bases "must be effectively secured from onshore, offshore and from the air," Putin said, adding that Russia has had this military group in Syria for many years."

https://www.rt.com/news/335554-putin-orders-syria-withdrawal/

And let me say thanks to Russia and Putin for doing the right thing when our governments wouldn't.

I also wonder how this relates to the Iranians pulling their forces out last week or the week before.

Bill Herschel

And the night got deathly quiet
And his face lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep...

toto

The optimistic interpretation is that Putin is not interested in forcing a total Assad victory, because he realizes that this just kicks the can down the road for a few years and potentially generates an abscess of Sunni frustration.

By withholding support short of a total rout, Assad is forced to negotiate in reasonably good faith and reach some understanding with the non-Jihadi rebels. The reconciled opposition forces will then be useful in fighting against the jihadis (not out of the kindness of their hearts, but simply because these jihadis will now turn on them!)

In this view, Putin is trying to Syrianize the conflict, and is betting that a reconciled opposition would be much more useful than disgruntled defeated rebels.

The pessimistic interpretation is that this is just more maskirovka.

Ghost ship

Russia is also keeping a military presence at the Khmeymim airbase. How many men are required to operate the S-400 batteries there? Was the intervention by the RuAF to free up Syrian aircrew and groundcrew to train/retrain on more modern Russian aircraft and incorporate best Russian CAS practices. According to Wikipedia, the RuAF are operating twelve Su-24, twelve Su-25 and eight Su-34 strike aircraft and eight Su-30/Su-35 fighters. Not exactly a large force (a couple of hundred men in all) and one that could be quite comfortably operated by the Syrian or Iranian air forces. So will we see a reduction in the tempo of air operations - maybe not. Perhaps the eight fighters will remain to act as a tripwire in case the sultan to the north misbehaves. And if the Syrian forces require increased air support for specific operations, there are always the strategic bombers operating out of southern Russia and cruise missiles from the Caspian flotilla.

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