Russia has begun withdrawing military personnel from Syria, a day after saying its forces had achieved their goals. A new ceasefire in the war-torn nation is largely being observed.

Russian forces went into Syria at the end of September with the stated purpose of fighting terrorism, and specifically ISIS.

“They mentioned the fact,” says Moscow-based reporter Charles Maynes, “that there were foreign fighters, basically Russian citizens from the northern Caucasus, who were in the battlefields of Syria, and that it was safer for the Russians to take them on there in Syria than at home.”

But other motives quickly became apparent, including stabilizing the regime of Syria’s beleaguered president, Bashar al-Assad. “Russian airstrikes threw Assad a lifeline just when he needed it,” says Maynes.

“But perhaps more importantly,” adds Maynes, “it reasserted Russia’s role in international politics. If you think back to when this all began at the end of September, Russia was completely isolated after the annexation of Crimea and its intervention in Ukraine.”

Maynes says the intervention in Syria forced the US to acknowledge that Russia was still a major player.

However, Russian president Vladimir Putin has failed in one important respect, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East studies center at the University of Oklahoma. And that was to oblige the US to accept the survival of the Assad regime.

“Clearly the United States is not interested in doing that,” says Landis. ”They’re not going to work with Russia. They’re not going to work with Assad.”

“The United States,” he adds, “is prepared to allow ISIS to linger on in Syria, rather than to team up with Assad and Russia. I think that’s been a frustration to Russia, and Russia’s saying look, we’ve done what we want, we can go home, and leave you holding the bag.” 

From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International