What Did Russian Air Strikes Accomplish In Syria?

After almost 10,000 fighter and bomber sorties against alleged rebel targets in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled the plug on military operations in the war-torn country.

The withdrawal follows the nervy agreement on a ceasefire between Washington and Moscow, who were pulling the strings of the opposing sides in the five-year conflict.

Despite some exchanges of fire, the agreement has largely gone to plan.

But although many Russian aircraft have headed out of Syria, Putin has warned they remain on standby and could return to the Syrian air base in a matter of hours.

So what has the Russian pummelling of opposition forces accomplished in Syria?

Assad gains the most

The bombing certainly has not ended the civil war or eroded the capacity of either side to carry the fight to their opponents.

If anything, president Assad’s government forces have gained the most.

Russian hardware and reinforcements bought the beleaguered government time to restock with weapons and ammunition.

At the time the Russians answer the president’s distress call in September, he was rumoured to be running out of troops, weapons and ammunition.

More importantly, the Russian action has shored up the country’s flagging reputation in the Middle East.

The strikes against ISIS, Kurds and other opponents of Assad’s regime show Russia has the determination and ability to strike decisively – unlike the seeming pussy-footing of the US which offered much but despite months of air strikes appeared to accomplish little.

Fighting drain on Moscow resources

However, despite Russia’s ruthlessness in pushing the attacks home, the operation in Syria also exposed some weaknesses.

Due to economic sanctions and the collapse in oil prices, the Russian economy has suffered and fighting a war overseas is costly, draining the struggling economy of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Even the vast might of the Russian war machine was overstretched by the operation.

Manning and supplying the Russian forces involved in the annexation of The Crimea and fighting against The Ukraine is also costly and a further drain on resources.

It’s likely to ceasefire offers respite to Putin who would have had to make a decision about how to fund and continue the air strikes sometime soon.

The lasting effect of Russian intervention is more likely Assad is no longer in a weakened position and is less likely to agree unfavourable terms for peace now than he would have six months ago.