U.S. President Donald Trump stunned the world Wednesday by announcing the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, declaring that the so-called Islamic State has been defeated. Planning for the “full” and “rapid” pullout already is under way, according to a U.S. defense official and an administration official quoted by CNN.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told state television Channel One that “a milestone” that might evolve from this decision is “a real prospect for a political solution.” But many Russian government officials, state media hosts and experts reacted to the news with cynical disbelief. It seemed too good to be true.
“Of course I support him [Trump] leaving,” said Semyon Bagdasarov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev.” Bagdasarov opined that the U.S. withdrawal would mean that massive oil reserves in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province would fall under Russian control. “I hope we’ll get it and not the Turks. Praise God, we thank him!”
Bagdasarov described the ultimate outcome of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria as “a total dream come true.” The host, Vladimir Soloviev, chimed in and predicted a massive picnic—“It will be a real celebration, in the best traditions!”
That said, the Russians are reluctant to take any of Trump’s announcements too seriously. Bagdasarov described Trump’s Syria declaration as “part of the delirium that is constantly coming over him.” Bagdasarov added, “He is an interesting guy, this is like a fiction novel. I feel bad for his poor defense minister, he’s struggling to keep up.”
Russian state media roundly mocked President Trump for his claimed defeat of ISIS in Syria.
The host of the Russian state TV program “60 Minutes” Evgeny Popov said: “Trump boldly and unceremoniously lied” about beating ISIS. “He didn’t defeat them – the Russian military did.” As for Trump’s promise of a complete withdrawal, Popov said: “I don’t believe it, we’ll see about that.”
During his show, "The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev," the host sarcastically remarked, “They suddenly noticed that they had defeated ISIS. Yesterday they hadn’t, but today they did.”
Soloviev added: “Trump woke up this morning, looked up – and ISIS is gone. Yesterday it was there, but today it’s gone.”
Semyon Bagdasarov pointed out that Trump seems to be unaware of the ongoing fight against ISIS that continues in real time. As for Trump’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, Bagdasarov says: “Forget about it... They aren’t going anywhere.”
Aleksei Kondratyev, a member of the Russian Upper House and the deputy chairman of the committee on defense and security, concurred with that assessment, stating: “Today, Trump simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed... They will do no such thing. They’ve been leaving Afghanistan for the last 20 years.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference on Thursday took a softer sort of noblesse oblige approach towards Trump, agreeing that meaningful changes have been achieved in Syria with respect to ISIS. “Donald is correct about this, I agree with him.”
On the other hand, Putin sounded skeptical about the U.S. pulling. “As far as withdrawal is concerned, I don’t know what that’s all about. The U.S. is present in Afghanistan for what – 17 years? – and talk about withdrawing their forces every year. So far, they’re still present there. For now, we don’t see any signs of the American withdrawal, but I allow for such a possibility... Let’s not forget that their presence is illegitimate.”
While the prevailing opinion in Russia is that Trump’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria would be wonderful, but remains unlikely, the U.S. President claimed via his Twitter feed that “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says.”
Perhaps Donald Trump is finally ready to accuse Russian state media and President Vladimir Putin of peddling fake news, but that too remains unlikely.