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Months After Russian ‘Withdrawal,’ Putin Considers Sending Troops Back Into Syria

REUTERS/Marko Djurica (SERBIA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Russian President Vladimir Putin may send Russian special forces to Syria to kill rebels fighting the Assad regime, furthering complicating the tangle of forces fighting in the now 5-year-old civil war.

Putin is discussing the matter with his military generals to ensure a “decisive victory,” Andrei Fyodorov, former deputy minister for Foreign Affairs, told Al Jazeera in an interview published Friday.

Fyodorov elaborated that “this is a delicate issue for our military. There are serious doubts that any participation by Russia on the ground would be favorable.”

Intervention on the ground in Syria is a sensitive topic for Russian citizens. Losses during the Russian military’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 still weigh heavy on the populace. Moscow believes the ground intervention may be necessary to fully tip the balance in favor Assad’s regime, despite originally hoping they could accomplish their mission with airpower alone.

Russia’s consideration of ground intervention follows their March 14 announcement of the beginning of withdrawal from Syria. At that time Russia believed it had turned the tide against the Assad regime far enough to allow it to negotiate a favorable settlement with the Syrian opposition. Following the collapse last month of the UN brokered cessation of hostilities, Russia may need to intervene on the ground to increase the amount of territory under Assad’s control.

Some Russian analysts are reportedly supporting ground intervention in order to avoid a prolonged air campaign. Russia’s air campaign is becoming increasingly costly, while their domestic economy shrank nearly two percent in 2015.

Russia has billed its intervention in Syria as a counter-terrorism mission and maintains that Assad’s regime is the best  partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The Institute for the Study of War, who has tracked Russian airstrikes since the beginning of their intervention, counters that Russian air operations “demonstrate Russia’s continued prioritization of support to its client regime in Damascus.”

Fyodor acknowledged to Al Jazeera that ground intervention could “complicate the negotiation process and lead to further disagreements with the US.” For now Russia has resumed its airstrikes near Aleppo, the largest city in Syria and a major bargaining chip for the Syrian Regime.

Fyodor noted, “From the Russian point of view, [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad should control 70 percent of Syria, and that way you can hold elections and they would be favourable for Assad. That is why the issue of ground operations is becoming more actual.”

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