March 15, 2016

CNAS Press Note: Russia Withdraws from Syria

Washington, March 15 – On news that Russia would soon begin withdrawing its military assets from Syria, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith has written a new Press Note, “Russia Withdraws from Syria.”


The full Press Note is below:

Yesterday, somewhat surprisingly, Russia announced that it would soon begin withdrawing its troops and military assets from Syria.  In addition to taking Washington by surprise, the announcement no doubt caught the Assad regime off guard, which has been relying on Russian air support to retake territory. 

To the extent that this decision puts added pressure on Assad to come to the negotiating table and consider options to bring about an end to the conflict, Russia’s announcement should be viewed positively.  But no one should be fooled by Putin’s “mission accomplished” message as it pertains to ISIS.  Russia’s top priority was never to fight the Islamic State.  Instead, Russia entered the Syrian conflict to prop up the Assad regime and protect its only base in the Middle East.  Those two objectives have clearly been met. 

But Putin’s claims that he contributed to the fight against ISIS are almost entirely false.  Instead, Russian airstrikes caused more bloodshed, pushed more refugees into Europe, and brought about a significant deterioration in Turkish-Russian ties.  And to the extent that Russia hoped its actions in Syria might distract the West from its actions inside Ukraine, the Syria mission failed there too.  In fact, in many ways, Russia’s actions in Syria have helped Europe and the United States maintain unity on their sanctions policy.


CNAS Experts are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at or 202-457-9409.


  • Julianne Smith

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Julianne (“Julie”) Smith is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy, where she coedits “Shadow Government.” She is also a senior advisor at WestExec Advisors, an adjunct senio...