When Russia launched its military operation in Syria in 2015, the then US President Barack Obama predicted Moscow would get « stuck in a quagmire ».
His defence secretary, Ashton Carter, warned that Russia’s approach was « doomed to fail ».
Two years on, Russia appears to have proved the doomsayers wrong.
On a surprise trip to Syria this week, President Vladimir Putin told his troops they had fought « brilliantly » and could « return home victorious ». He ordered the withdrawal of a « significant part » of Russia’s military contingent.
So, mission accomplished for Moscow? It seems so.
The mission – at least as stated publicly by President Putin in September 2015 – was to fight « international terrorism ».
So-called Islamic State has, indeed, suffered defeat in Syria, although Western governments have criticised Moscow for also targeting the moderate Syrian opposition.
But Russia’s campaign had another aim – to keep a key ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in power. That goal has been achieved.
As Russian military support for Damascus changed the facts on the ground in Mr Assad’s favour, the prospect of regime change in Syria retreated. The US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had been demanding the Syrian leader’s removal as a prerequisite for peace. They no longer do so.
Mr Assad owes his political survival to President Putin, and that gives Moscow considerable influence in Syria.(bbc)