Phyllis Bennis in Counterpunch:
In a surprise announcement on March 14, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the Russians were withdrawing “most of our military” from Syria beginning immediately. According to the TASS news agency, Putin said he hoped the withdrawal “will become a good motivation for launching negotiations” and “instructed the foreign minister to intensify Russia’s participation in organization of peace process in Syria.” The withdrawal, along with Putin’s restated support for a political settlement, could help move forward the fragile UN-brokered Geneva talks on ending the Syrian crisis that began on the same day — as well as the tenuous UN-negotiated cessation of hostilities. “Those Russian servicemen who will stay in Syria will be engaged in monitoring the ceasefire regime,” TASS reported, indicating that the pilots and crews of the 50 Russian warplanes and helicopters that have been based in Syria would be withdrawn. The withdrawal is an important step that should help reduce the level of violence in the deadly war. But questions remain.
…A real reduction of violence, a durable ceasefire, and a viable peace process leading to an end to the Syrian war will require much more — more from Russia, certainly, but even more from the United States and its allies. There’s no indication yet that Russia’s move was coordinated with Washington, although White House spokespeople indicated that a Putin-Obama talk might be possible. In the meantime, Washington should follow Russia’s lead and pressure its own proxy forces to shift towards diplomacy. The withdrawal of U.S. troops, special forces, drones, and warplanes from Syria, paralleling the Russian move, would be an important first step. Further moves must include an end to both the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s programs to train and arm rebel forces in Syria.