EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian civil war boosted the reputation of the Russian military, afforded it valuable training, and enhanced Moscow’s political clout in both the conflict zone itself and the Middle East more generally. With that said, Syria threatens to become a quagmire for Russia, and Moscow is looking for an exit. This will be difficult to pull off as Russia faces considerable geopolitical constraints.
Following the recent successes of the Russian military forces in Syria, there are renewed indications that Moscow is seeking some kind of exit strategy. Already in 2016 there were reports that the Kremlin was planning on withdrawing its forces from Syria, but Russian leaders are now openly hinting at closing off their combat operations there.
One of the latest signs that the Kremlin is exploring possible exit strategies came during a recent bilateral meeting between Russian and Israeli officials. On October 10, major Russian media outlets announced that the future of the Russian involvement in Syria had been discussed at a Tel Aviv meeting during which Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that the Russian operation in Syria was nearing its completion.