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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2052

Russia withdraws from Syria... somewhat;
The Obama administration holds the sanctions line

Edited by Ilan Berman and Ivanna Kuz
April 7, 2016

March 14: 

Russia has ordered the "main part" of its forces to withdraw from Syria, 
the BBC reports. "I consider the mission set for the defence ministry and the armed forces on the whole has been accomplished," Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of his advisors at the Kremlin. "I am therefore ordering the defence ministry to begin the withdrawal of the main part of our military force from the Syrian Arab Republic from tomorrow." 

Current Time reports that the Russian government has revised downward its estimates for the average monthly cost of living in the country. In the fourth quarter of 2015, it has said, the average cost of living was 9452 rubles (roughly $139) - down slightly (by 221 rubles) from the preceding three month period. The downturn is attributed to declining prices and purchasing power, and the increasingly frugal habits of ordinary Russians. 

The European Union has reaffirmed a consolidated position against Russia, 
Radio Free Europe/Radio Libertyreports. Meeting in Brussels, the 28 foreign ministers of the EU unanimously approved "five guiding principles" governing the bloc's foreign policy toward Russia. These principles include full Russian respect and implementation of the February 2015 Minsk ceasefire, as well as greater European attention to the nations of Central Asia and to the development of Russian civil society. 

March 16:

Both Russia and China are working on strategies to disrupt "critical U.S. military and intelligence satellites" as part of a potential future conflict with America, a top Pentagon official has said. 
The Free Beacon reports Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the commander of Air Force Space Command, as telling lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee that strategic adversaries of the United States - including Russia and China - "are developing kinetic, directed-energy, and cyber tools to deny, degrade, and destroy our space capabilities." These countries, Hyten said, "understand our reliance on space, and they understand the competitive advantage we derive from space. The need for vigilance has never been greater." 

March 17:

Moscow may have announced a military withdrawal from Syria, but the action is far from irreversible. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in comments 
carried by the Washington Post, the Kremlin is capable of surging forces back into the Syrian theater in a matter of mere hours should it be deemed necessary to do so. 

The Obama administration is holding the line on its sanctions policy toward Russia. 
According to The Moscow Times, the White House has affirmed that American sanctions on Russia will remain in place until the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in February 2014 after a stage-managed referendum, is returned to Ukraine. "We will not accept the redrawing of borders by force in the 21st century,” State Department spokesman John Kirby has said. "Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues." 

March 18:

When the Russian government announced its intervention in Syria back in September, Kremlin officials styled it as part of a broad front aimed at combatting the Islamic State terrorist group. Now that Moscow has made plans to pull out of Syria, however, it is looking to continue that fight by more indirect means. 
Middle East Newsline reports that Russia's Defense Ministry has dispatched an initial batch of ZU-23 anti-aircraft batteries to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in what looks to be an ongoing effort to beef up defenses in Iraq's north. "Russia is hoping that these weapons will help the Peshmerga and the Iraqi armed forces to defeat Islamic State,” Russia's consul general in Iraq, Artyom Grigoryan, has explained.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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