THE decision of President Putin to begin withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, after giving President Assad just a few hours notice, constitutes a clear message to Assad to settle for what he can get in the just-begun peace talks in Geneva, and, that as far as the Russian government is concerned, it has achieved what it intervened for in Syria.
Putin made this clear at a working meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Monday March 14: ‘The truly effective work by our troops has created conditions to start the peace process. I feel that the objectives set before the Defence Ministry and the Russian Armed Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic have generally been fulfilled . . . so I order the Defence Ministry to begin withdrawing the main part of our military group from the Syrian Arab Republic beginning tomorrow. I ask the Foreign Ministry to intensify the Russian Federation’s participation in organising the peace process to resolve Syria’s problems.’
Maintaining the Assad government was not an objective! Putin added: ‘At the same time, our base points – our maritime base in Tartus and our aviation base at the Hmeymim airbase – will function as before. They must be protected securely from land, sea and air.’
The position that only the Syrian people can decide whether President Assad is to continue leading them has been dumped. Maintaining this principle was not the reason for the Russian intervention – it was to weaken the ISIS terrorists and establish a peace process.
At the meeting Putin added: ‘I hope that today’s decision will be a good signal for all conflicting sides. I hope that this will significantly lift the level of trust between all participants in the Syrian peace process and promote resolving the Syrian issue via peaceful means.’
Putin hopes that any new regime that emerges from the ‘peace process’, partly due to his efforts, will allow the Russian naval and air base to continue – as they are considered vital by the Russian military for Russia’s defence. However, the Russian forces that remain in Syria may well have some work to do.
President Obama has welcomed the decision to withdraw the bulk of the Russian forces and said that the US is now studying the new situation. Part of this situation was revealed by Foreign Minister Lavrov, earlier on Monday, before the withdrawal announcement.
He said in an interview with the Ren-TV television channel on Monday: ‘We are ready to coordinate our actions with the Americans because Raqqah is in the eastern part of Syria, and the American coalition is mainly acting there.’
Lavrov also said that Washington had earlier expressed keenness to divide the operations in Syria, with the US and its coalition partners working to recapture Raqqah, and Russia being tasked with liberating the ancient city of Palmyra in the central Homs Province.
‘Perhaps, this is no secret, if I say that at some stage the Americans suggested performing a “division of labour” the Russian Air forces should concentrate on the liberation of Palmyra, and the American coalition, with Russian support, will focus on the liberation of Raqqah,’ Lavrov added.
The imperialist powers must not be allowed to steal a victory in Syria, dispatching the Assad regime with the aid of a phony ‘peace process’ and placing agents of Saudi Arabia into power. Not only is the future of the Syrian people at stake but also the future of the people of the Lebanon – where Hezbollah is supporting the Syrian government – and the people of Palestine who are already horribly oppressed by an Israeli regime that is negotiating $50bn of US military aid to be able to field an army with massive firepower to defend the interests of the imperialist powers throughout the region.
The workers of the world, including the Russian workers, must insist that only the Syrian people have the power to decide who is to make up their government, and that only the Syrian people can decide, through a properly constituted election, whether President Assad is to remain their president.
These questions cannot be decided by President Obama with the possible assistance of President Putin. They must only be decided by the Syrian people.