President Putin's unexpected announcement that Russia was to withdraw its forces from Iran caught many people on the wrong foot. There's been a lot of (mostly ill-informed) speculation about why he's taking this step, and what it might imply. I suspect Ralph Peters might be nearer to the truth than most, in this article for the New York Post.
Putin didn’t go into Syria because Assad was a pal. He sent in his air power and his commandos to expand Russia’s regional influence as American power ebbed. He thought he saw a not-to-be-missed strategic opportunity.
And he certainly expected Assad to be grateful for his salvation at Russian hands.
But gratitude isn’t in the Middle East’s repertoire. As Americans discovered painfully, the region’s thanks resemble the bite of a cobra.
There’s even a cost factor: Russia’s economy’s shrinking, and Putin’s been forced to slow his cherished military renewal. Even the dumb bombs dropped on civilians in Syria carry a price.
Still, Putin’s abrupt departure has to have more behind it than a spurious desire to further peace talks, the need to save money or personal pique at Assad.
The long bet is that his generals, diplomats and intelligence hands on the ground were shocked by the degree to which Iran already and irrevocably dominates Syria. And Iraq. And Lebanon.
. . .
Suddenly, Putin had a vision of a nuclear-armed, radical-Shia empire on Russia’s southern flank. Those Iranian missiles that can reach Israel? They can reach major Russian cities, too.
Putin’s initial bet on Shia Iran also backfired by turning the Islamic world’s Sunni majority against him — not least Saudi Arabia, which can continue to hold down the price of oil and gas, punishing Russia’s economy far more than it wounds American fracking efforts. And Sunni terrorists have taken a renewed interest in Russia.
After Putin’s Syrian adventure, he may be re-prioritizing his enemies.
There's more at the link.
This might tie in with reports that Russia has suspended its shipment of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, on the grounds that Iran has broken its pledge not to deliver advanced Russian weapons systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel will doubtless be pleased by the latter move, since the S-300 missile system would be one of the most difficult and dangerous obstacles to overcome if it decides to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. Frankly, if Iran turns into the dominant power from Iraq, through Syria, all the way into Lebanon, I think it'll make such a strike by Israel more rather than less likely - and that may drag the USA into the conflict, whether we like it or not, because all of Israel's long-range strike aircraft are made in this country, and Iran will blame the USA if they're used against it. Of course, it'll also blame Russia if its delayed S-300 systems aren't there to help prevent the strike . . .
We live in interesting times.