Did Assad Sleep that Night? Putin's Announcement - Assad Is Aghast And So Is Hezbollah
27 March 2016
By Tariq Alhomayed
Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised the world by intervening
militarily in Syria, he surprised them again by announcing a partial
withdrawal of forces from it. The question here is not why the Russians
announced the partial withdrawal because it is too early to know the details,
especially as the world waited for a long time to understand the real reasons
for Russian intervention. However, the question is: did Bashar Al-Assad sleep
the night that the decision was made?
A careful reading of the statements made by the Kremlin and the Assad regime
show significant differences; the Russian statement begins with a different
phrase to the one that Assad begins with. According to Russia Today, Putin
telephoned Assad ''to discuss applying the American – Russian declaration on
the cessation of hostilities in Syria''. The regime's statement, on the other
hand, does not refer to this!
The Russian statement said that Putin ''confirmed that the Russian armed forces
have carried out the major missions assigned to them, and the withdrawal of
most Russian fighter jets from Syria has been agreed on. In addition to this,
a centre to monitor the implementation of the conditions of the cessation of
hostilities will also remain.'' Russia Today also quoted that ''Bashar Al-Assad
has indicated Damascus' willingness to begin the political process in the
country as soon as possible''.
On the other hand, Assad's statement began with ''Russia pledges to continue to
support Syria in the fight against terrorism, and these pledges came shortly
after Moscow's declaration that it will start to withdraw most of its forces
from Syria on Tuesday''. It continues by stating that the withdrawal came
''After the successes achieved by the Syrian Arab Army in cooperation with the
Russian air force in the fight against terrorism, and the return of security
and safety to many regions''. During a telephone call between Al-Assad and
Putin, both sides agreed to ''reduce the presence of the Russian Air Force''.
The Russians emphasised that they will continue to support Syria.
Through the two statements, it is clear that the Russians speak as though they
made the decision to withdraw their forces, while Assad talks about an
agreement and pledges of support, which shows that Assad is trying to
interpret the Russian decision in a way that reassures his followers and hides
his concern. The newspaper The New York Times quoted the spokesman for the
Kremlin as saying that Putin ''decided to withdraw troops'' and that this was a
unilateral decision that was not made ''at Assad's request''. The newspaper also
added that Putin's decision is a ''fierce message that Russia's support for
Assad is not unlimited''.
Therefore, the agitation is not restricted to Assad alone; it will also
afflict the terrorist organisation Hezbollah and Iran. The days to come will
bring with them more details regardless of whether the Russian withdrawal is
real or just a manoeuvre. What is for certain is that Assad is aghast and so
is Hezbollah. Putin's announcement that his forces ''have carried out their
missions'' reminds us of George W. Bush's announcement that ''the task has been
carried out'', while the destruction caused extends from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Accordingly, what happens next will be more interesting, especially with the
large number of statements trying to interpret the partial withdrawal if it is
ratified. At the moment, however, it seems that Assad and Hassan Nasrallah's
night was a black one – just like their actions.
Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and
current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous
positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the
first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a
bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah.
He is based in London.