President Donald Trump‘s surprise decision to withdraw forces from Syriapresented a rare and unmistakable victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose relationship with the Trump administration has been anything but predictable.
With the departure of US troops, Moscow would become the undisputed international power broker in the war-torn country and win an opportunity to consolidate a countrywide victory for its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The frenzied and disorganised nature of the US withdrawal announcement – in leaked remarks to the news media followed by a terse tweet and a slapdash soft-focus video shot on the White House lawn – also bolstered Mr Putin’s efforts to undermine Washington’s network of alliances.
In comments on Thursday, the Russian president hailed the US decision as “correct,” agreeing with Mr Trump that the Islamic State had been largely defeated.
“On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,” Mr Putin said on Thursday.
Mr Trump stunned US allies by ordering the withdrawal of US forces and contradicted US diplomats and military officers who as recently as last week said the United States would remain in Syria to finish off the Islamic State.
For Mr Putin, who himself has been dismayed by the Trump administration’s frenetic application of sanctions against Moscow and one-off military strikes in Syria, the chaos of the president’s governing style landed decisively in his favour.
“The Kremlin is of two minds when it comes to Trump: It hates the unpredictability and lack of coordination coming out of this White House but totally loves the chaos Trump is unleashing,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russia scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Anything that damages America’s alliances and image of a steadfast, reliable partner is a net win for Moscow.”
Mr Trump’s broadsides against allies and lack of interest in building international consensus ahead of major policy changes have injected a level of doubt into the country’s alliances that were largely unseen in the post-war era.
Many of the United States’ most important allies, from Europe to Asia, were reassured by the presence of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who has publicly made strengthening American alliances a central platform of his tenure at the Pentagon.
But the sudden decision this week about a withdrawal from Syria left the Pentagon chief with little time or rationale to reassure allies. His announcement on Thursday that he would resign is likely to raise concerns about the Trump administration’s commitment to…
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