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Opinion: Did Assad Sleep that Night? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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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.