Yesterday, March 14, 2016, Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian forces had accomplished their mission in Syria and would be pulling out. This sudden move surprised analysts, who were equally surprised when Putin moved in. As we’ve noted, surprise and stealth are two important factors for maneuver strategy. Putin is constantly moving in a number of arenas (Syria, Ukraine are two examples) and keeping his opponents guessing. Beyond surprise, we can see that Putin used preemption in Syria, taking a valuable, unoccupied position before others did or would. Putin preempted any other major power from entering the war. The valuable, unoccupied position that he took is to demonstrate that Russia wants to be a player in the Middle East, and is willing to fill the vacuum left by Europe and the recent reticence of the Obama administration to participate in the Middle East.
His entry was speedy and surprising, just like his announced exit. He won kudos from other Middle Eastern governments for standing up to terrorists (even if he supported Assad). He and Russia will gain greater credibility in the Middle East, retain a naval base in Syria and perhaps add an airbase, making Russia a player in the Middle East again.
Politico has a nice story today, suggesting that Putin “stole a march” on the west.
The concept of maneuver works in the political sphere, as well as in military campaigns. Increasingly we’ll see maneuver strategy enter the business world to compete with attrition.