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Mixed reactions to Russian troops withdrawal from Syria

Russian President Putin with Defence Minister at the Kremlin in Moscow on 14 March, 2016
Russian President Putin with Defence Minister at the Kremlin in Moscow on 14 March, 2016 Reuters/Mikhail Klimentyev

Reactions to Russia’s announcement that it is pulling its troops out of Syria has been met with mixed reactions from all sides in the conflict. The Russian decision preceded another round of peace talks that continues this week in Geneva. 


Russia pulls military out of Syria

Russian Plans

During an afternoon break during the Geneva III talks, there was skepticism about the latest Russian plans.

“We want to see action on the ground there in Syria,” says Salem al-Meslet, spokesperson for the High Negotiations Committee [HNC], a group of opposition factions backed by the west.

“It is important for us to see a full pull-out of the Russian troops. Not only Russian troops, all foreign troops.”

He adds that his group “wants to see an end to terrorism in Syria. We want to see visitors, we want to see friends come to Syria, but not people who help Assad to kill his own people.”

But the HNC acknowledged that the Russian withdrawal is “a positive step if they are serious to really implement that. We will wait and see and our decision will be based on what we see on the ground.”

In Syria itself, people are following the latest round of negotiations with attention.

“Russia take this decision to open really the [way to a] political solution in Geneva,” says Maria Saadeh, an independent member of the Syrian parliament.

“They intend to stimulate discussions without any pressure or any pretext that Russia keeps its power in Syria.”

“But at the same time, Russia has an interest in Syria and they will keep Syria from danger.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian press agency, Sana, takes pain to stress that the Russian pull-out was a joint decision, taken by both Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Syrian president.

But not everybody agrees.

Syria response

“The risk of being in a situation where the tail is wagging the dog is part of the Russian decision,” says Firaz Abi Ali, an analyst with IHS Risk Management in London.

“In the last couple of days you saw the Syrian foreign minister saying that there is no way that Assad is going to go, that Assad is a red line, there is no negotiation around him etcetera.”

“But in fact the Syrians basically were trying to use the Russian support to avoid having to make concessions of any kind, and the Russians therefore made the statement as a way of imposing on the Syrian government a willingness to compromise and to negotiate.”

But many things still have to be resolved, for one, who is going to take part especially at the side of the opposition groups.

And while the Islamic State armed group and the Al Nusra front are universally excluded from the talks, there’s still a lot of disagreement on the other groups.

“We know exactly that all opposition outside Syria or even some inside are on the lists of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” says Maria Saadeh.

“That means, those opposition factions are not free in what they decide.”

Saadeh suggests that many of these groups are actually pushing the agenda of regional powers and therefore not to be trusted.

But the clock is ticking. And another reaction to the Russian pull-out has come from the Al Nusra front hours after the first Russian planes started to head back to their bases.

The group told the French Press Agency that they regard the Russian pull out as Moscow acknowledging defeat and announced a new offensive within 48 hours.

And the latest Russian moves may mark the beginning of a new cycle of violence.

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