In just over two years, Russia’s armed forces and the Syrian army have defeated the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists,” Vladimir Putin said on his first trip to Syria this week. During his surprise visit, Mr. Putin announced that as its mission was accomplished, a “significant part” of the Russian force based in Syria would now be withdrawn. “The Motherland awaits you.”
His Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, welcomed Mr. Putin at the Hmeimim airbase and thanked him for Moscow’s support. On the request of the government in Damascus, Russia officially intervened in Syria in September 2015 to defeat terrorists, with thousands of airstrikes subsequently turning the tide of the brutal war in Mr. Assad’s favour.
But Moscow’s biggest intervention in the Middle East in decades also proved useful beyond Syria’s borders, starting at a time when Russia was increasingly isolated in the international community due to its meddling in Ukraine. Having established itself as one of the most powerful external actors in Syria, Moscow won back international clout and amidst uncertainty over US foreign policy emerged as a crucial power broker in the Middle East.
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