Staunton, October 17 – Many Russian commentators are celebrating US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal of American forces from Syria as a triumph for Vladimir Putin and Russia; but Vladimir Mukhin of Nezavisimaya gazeta says that their conclusion ignores the real danger that Syria will become “a second Afghanistan” for Moscow.
They should have paid more attention to Trump’s statement about the American withdrawal which explicitly raised that danger and to conditions on the ground in Syria which suggest there are compelling reasons to take such parallels very seriously indeed (ng.ru/politics/2019-10-17/1_7705_syria.html).
In justifying his decision to pull US troops, Trump drew the comparison between Syria and Afghanistan and noted that Moscow suffered from its involvement in Afghanistan and could easily suffer again and potentially in the same way if it chooses to get more deeply involved in Syria.
While one can debate “whether the Afghan war was the main cause of the collapse of the USSR,” Mukhin observes, “It is obvious that it was a serious burden on the Soviet Union” and that Moscow’s involvement did nothing to help that country survive. And Russia today has far fewer military resources than the Soviet Union did.
Moreover the Nezavisimaya observer says, “the goals of the CPSU leadership which decided to send forces into Afghanistan are still not too clear. Now experts are asking why the leadership of the Russian Federation has sent a military contingent to Syria. Between the lines, that question is to be found in Trump’s comments about the role of Russia” there.
Trump’s comments are hardly the views of a disinterested observer, Mukhin says. The Americans aren’t leaving Syria, and they have bigger goals in the Middle East than the immediate ones people are talking about: they want to counter any expansion of Russian influence in that region as a whole.
And the Russian commentator suggests that those who view the American handing over of bases to Russian control in Syria as a Russian victory are missing the point: Washington doesn’t want them to fall int the hands of the radicals and is entirely happy t have Russia drawn more deeply into a conflict it cannot hope to win.
Thus, Mukhin concludes, “despite Moscow’s declaration abut the end f the military phase f the pertain in Syria, to speak about the transition of that country to a peaceful life is premature. Damascus with the support of Russia has achieved only local victories. But the resolution of political problems there has not yet begun.”