One did not need to see the White House spokesperson squirm and stutter on Monday to understand that nobody in this world has a clue just what is going through the head of – and what is motivating the decisions made by – Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just as he surprised the world six months ago when he decided to send his military to intervene in the Syrian civil war, he similarly amazed observers on Monday when he announced plans to gradually withdraw his forces from there.

Putin said Monday night that Russia had achieved its goals in Syria. It’s difficult to judge that statement since it’s been unclear from the start what those goals were. If the aims were limited – preventing the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime – then the mission was indeed accomplished. The Russian air force succeeded in keeping Assad in power. It prevented the regime from disintegrating and enabled Assad’s ground forces to expand their control over Syrian territory while allowing the government to dictate the pace of events as the bloody civil war enters its sixth year. READ MORE