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20 Dec, 2018 05:08

Moscow welcomes US pullout from Syria as signal of hope for political settlement

Moscow welcomes US pullout from Syria as signal of hope for political settlement

Washington's decision to pull its troops out of Syria might signal hope for political stability in the war-torn country, a spokeswoman from the Russian Foreign Ministry said, while other Russian officials remain skeptical.

The US soldiers' withdrawal might just bring Syria closer to a "real prospect of political settlement," Maria Zakharova told Russia's Channel 1. It will also help resolve the tense situation in the Rukban refugee camps near the Syria-Jordan border, which have reportedly become a regional safe haven for terrorists – and also happen to be located not far from the US base in Al Tanf.

"There is hope that this area of Syria will eventually return to normal, peaceful life just like in Aleppo and other Syrian cities before it," Zakharova said, adding that "As long as the US [soldiers] were there, there was no such hope."

Rukban, which hosts some 50,000 refugees from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, is located on a territory largely controlled by the US. In August, Moscow warned that hundreds of terrorists from the Islamic State (IS, former ISIS) and the Al Nusra front were hiding among the refugees, holding people hostage and using them as human shields. The same refugee camp was listed in a recent report by the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team as one of the sources of the Islamic State’s reemergence.

Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly urged the US to cooperate to deal with the situation in Rukban, with Russia offering to help provide safe transportation of the refugees back to their homes. The Americans, on the other hand, were more of a hindrance than an asset, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who earlier this month claimed that US military presence at the Al-Tanf airbase was making it harder to deliver aid to the camp.

Now, Zakharova says that Washington has apparently finally realized that it is only doing itself a disservice by impeding the joint efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria.

Plausible deniability?

Some Russian officials remained skeptical, however, suggesting that the pullout is designed to untie the hands of Washington's militant proxies on the ground. Aleksandr Sherin, the deputy head of the Russian State Duma's Defense Committee, told RIA Novosti that Washington could be aiming for plausible deniability in future provocations by anti-Assad forces.

Lawmakers also suggested Washington might be planning to get concessions from Moscow.

When President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal, he said that the Islamic State was "the only reason" for US presence in Syria, and they have now been defeated. According to Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, this leaves Washington without a formal enemy to fight, and its only remaining options are to withdraw in earnest or admit that their real fight is against Bashar Assad's government.

Also on rt.com ‘Russia wins’: Fury in Washington as Trump announces withdrawal from Syria

Even if American forces leave, Kosachev is not optimistic about seeing real change in the power landscape of Syria. He believes Washington will most likely continue pulling the strings through its allies on the ground.

While announcing the move on Wednesday, the White House made it clear that this does not "signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign" but instead marks a "transition to the next phase of this campaign." Nonetheless, the decision provoked quite a stir among politicians and the media alike, who responded with anger and disbelief.

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