With the Russian economy in shambles, President Putin needs to achieve these goals:
– Lifting of Western sanctions against Russia.
– Agreement that Russia must be given a sphere of influence in neighboring former republics. Those include Ukraine, Georgia, and eventually the Baltic states.
– Acceptance of his illegal annexation of Crimea.
As a member of the international group in the Syrian negotiations, the announcement that Russia is pulling out of Syria gives the appearance to the West that Russia is no longer a part of the problem, but instead can be trusted to be a part of the solution. That, of course, is debatable.
As to any idea that he can afford to continue the fighting in Syria, not really. We can only shake our heads in disbelief when pundits proclaim that Western sanctions have not hurt the Kremlin. Sanctions, including the so-called “reverse sanctions” imposed by the Kremlin on imports, have crippled the economy.
In reality, the Russian budget is in crisis and in the big scheme of things, Putin cannot financially continue to fighting a war indefinitely on two fronts. Make no mistake, Ukraine and Syria are part of the same war in the Kremlin scheme.
Russian fighting in Syria has given Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu the opportunity to more openly train and hone troops and weapons systems for eventual use in the theatre closer to home. Those big new bases being built along the Ukrainian border are there for a reason.
The indiscriminate bombing of Syrian communities and civilians has not only created a very convenient refugee crisis to weaken Europe, but has sent a clear message to Kyiv, and those in the West who support Ukraine, as to the consequences if the Ukrainian desire to be independent of Russia is not nipped in the bud. Putin has played a clear hand to eventually force the West to accept his “final solution” of the Ukrainian question, and unfortunately the West is tired and will eventually be strongly tempted to look the other way.
The slow but clear signs of a growing resurrection to opposition of Putin’s rule will force his hand. He cannot fix the economy without $70 per barrel for oil, so he will use military adventurism close to home as a distraction to quiet any ideas of revolt at home.