Putin praises Trump’s precipitous decision to extract U.S. troops from Syria

December 21, 2018

“Dah.” Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly is no “yes-man,” so President Trump had to be pleased when news emerged from the Kremlin this week that he approved of the U.S. leader’s decision to “immediately” withdraw troops from Syria.

Trump made the unanticipated announcement on Twitter on December 19: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Neither the U.S. Department of Defense nor the Senate’s Armed Services Committee knew of the decision—nor had the State Department, the National Security Council, the nation’s allies, or even the White House Press Office been informed of the move.

According to a report by The Washington Post, Putin told journalists at his annual year-end news conference that the Islamic State had suffered “serious blows” in Syria.

“On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,” Putin said. 

But Putin, along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei Iran, may be among the few who support the move.

The Post reports that analysts say the militant group remains a deadly force. Russia —which remains Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally—turned the tide of the civil war in Assad’s favor in 2015 and has maintained its military presence there.

The United States and many of its allies denounced Russia’s military intervention in Syria. But Trump’s withdrawal is viewed by many —including some Republican Trump backers — as an indirect boost for Moscow and its status as the main foreign power in Syria.

Putin said the U.S. troop deployment to Syria had been illegitimate because neither Assad’s government nor the United Nations had approved the U.S. mission.

“If the United States decided to withdraw its force, then this would be right,” Putin said.

Russia has been negotiating a political settlement to the civil war in Syria with Assad, neighboring Turkey, and Russia’s ally Iran. The presence of U.S. troops was not helpful for achieving such a settlement, Putin said.

Putin, however, said nothing about the future of Russia’s extensive military presence in Syria, which includes a Mediterranean port used by Russian warships, according to the Post.

Research contact: anton.troianovski@washpost.com

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