Syrians react to Russian withdrawal

Russian President Vladimir Putin Image copyright AP

Russia's surprise announcement about the withdrawal of most of its forces from Syria was met with dark humour, celebration and hasty explanations online.

The first Russian aircraft began taking off from Syria on Tuesday morning, but by then the reaction was already in full swing on Syrian social media.

An Arabic hashtag which translates as "Putin withdrawing from Syria" quickly made it to the top of Twitter's worldwide trends, and was used more than 160,000 times. Many of the most popular messages were posted by users from Gulf nations and particularly Saudi Arabia, with some users pointing to a recent Saudi military exercise, claiming it frightened Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad celebrated the news and compared the announcement of the withdrawal to a lovers' break-up - although Russia will continue carrying out air strikes.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Translation: "Putin to Assad: You deserve someone better than me"
Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Translation: "Please be careful of Assad's reaction, he might use chemical weapons, because he has nothing to lose after he's been dumped by Putin."

A statement posted to the official Facebook page of the Syrian president said that Putin and Assad had been in touch by phone and that the withdrawal had been mutually agreed.

That version of events was that was repeated by Assad supporters who accused the other side of spreading misinformation:

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Translation: "Instead of just talking rubbish on Twitter about Russia's withdrawal, why don't you go tell your leaders to intervene in Syria and I'll give you a prize"

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One popular image being circulated online was a fake mock-up of a screenshot of phone. The picture isn't new - it's been posted with reference to the Syrian conflict since at least as far back as 2014:

Another popular picture referenced a series of videos that surfaced in the early stages of the war, when Syrian military defectors would declare their allegiance to the Free Syrian Army on camera, by brandishing their government identification cards and renouncing Assad.

In this picture, Putin is saying: "I defect from Bashar al-Assad and this is my identification card."

Image copyright Facebook

Other gloating images and memes were being widely shared on Facebook:

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Top: "Assad after the Russian intervention". Bottom: "Assad after the Russian withdrawal"
Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Translation: "When Putin withdraws his troops from Syria, it's like when someone pulls a prank on their friend by yanking his swimsuit off in the middle of the sea and running away."

Reporting by Mamdouh Akbiek

Blog by Mike Wendling

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