Today, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced that most of Russia’s forces in Syria would pull out of the country in the coming days. But the question is, why?
The goal of the Russian intervention was never to ensure Assad’s victory, it was merely to prevent the regime’s imminent collapse. This has been accomplished. Russia is very keen to avoid a long drawn-out engagement with no end in sight, and so they are pulling out of Syria the first chance they got. However, this is still very bad news for the Assad regime. The Russian intervention did prevent an imminent collapse of the Assad regime but did not significantly alter the course of the war enough so that the regime will not find itself in the same position again. Assad forces have re-captured quite a bit of ground, yes, but only with overwhelming Russian firepower and not enough so that they can stand on their own. The Russian intervention did nothing to alleviate the regime’s rather severe manpower shortage. The Alawites, who overwhelmingly make up the majority of the regime’s supporters and soldiers, have (as of a year ago) seen roughly a third of their men of fighting age die. That figure is higher today. The regime has little in the way of replacing them except to increasingly rely on fighters from Hezbollah and Iran to do the actual fighting. This problem is only getting worse and spells long term trouble for the Assad regime. Even if, somehow, they manage to take back the rest of the country, how will they be able to maintain control? Heavy airstrikes by the Russian’s have relieved some of the pressure on the Assad regime, but to win a war, any and every war, you must have soldiers, and the Syrian regime is running out of men.
As a final note, I would like to stress what a depressing way for the Syrian conflict to end this is. What began as a peaceful uprising has killed or wounded an entire generation of young men. This war seems likely to only end once the regime runs out of Alawite men able to fight.