Russia Embraces Trump's Syria Pullout, Though Some Are Skeptical

(Bloomberg) -- Russian officials expressed cautious enthusiasm for U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to pull troops out of Syria, with some suggesting the news was too good to be true.

“If the Americans really do pull their troops out, I think that would only help stabilize the situation in Syria,” the Interfax news service cited Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, as saying.

“The withdrawal of American troops from Syria will always be welcomed in Moscow,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert in the Russian capital. There was no immediate response from the Kremlin or the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russia has long demanded U.S. forces withdraw from Syria, arguing that they’re in the Middle Eastern country illegally because they lack consent of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Along with Iran, Russia is a principal ally of Assad’s. President Vladimir Putin sent in Russian forces to help tip the war that began in 2011 in Assad’s favor against U.S.-backed rebels. The U.S. has about 2,000 soldiers in northeastern Syria supporting Kurdish-led forces who control the area. Turkey has troops in northwestern Syria.

Withdrawal means “ they’re selling out the Kurds, who’ll be under serious pressure from Turkey” said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in the upper house of parliament. Even so, “I don’t think the Americans will leave” completely and U.S. special forces may remain on Syrian territory, he said.

“The Kurds will make a deal with Damascus. What other choice do they have?” said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a Middle East expert at the state-funded Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. “This means Syrian government troops will enter that area.”

It remains to be seen if the U.S. will withdraw its forces, though “what was valuable was American air power,” said Yury Barmin, a Middle East analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, a research group set up by the Kremlin. “If the Americans continue to conduct air operations from across the border in Iraq, maybe that doesn’t change the equation that much.”

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