" Did Putin win in Syria? " Israeli scholar Ari Heistein asks, noting that Moscow can boast of having succeeded both militarily and politically. But did he get it right? Russia's partial withdrawal from Syria has received high praise from political analysts, CIA veterans and military experts. International observers have referred to the perfect timing of Moscow's pullout and stressed that the Kremlin's decision paves the way for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict. Since the very beginning of the joint Russo-Syrian campaign, the Russian leadership clearly articulated what its objectives in Syria were. Back in October 2015, Russian President Putin pointed out that the campaign was aimed at halting radical Islamists' advance in the region and "stabilizing the legitimate Syrian government" in order to create grounds for a political compromise. These objectives have been mostly accomplished. However, Israeli scholar Ari Heistein, the Special Assistant to the Director of the Institute for National Security Studies, believes that the Kremlin pursued yet another political goal. "In contrast to the pro-regime forces' modest territorial gains on the battlefield, however, Russian intervention has done a great deal to undermine US foreign policy in the diplomatic arena," Heistein argues in his Op-Ed for The National Interest. "Putin's intervention on behalf of Assad further undermined US credibility as an ally," he continues, citing the fact that the Kremlin's support to Damascus "certainly increases Moscow's appeal as a potential partner" for Middle Eastern governments. Furthermore, the Israeli scholar suggests that "Russia exploited tension between critical partners in the US-led anti-IS (Daesh) coalition and turned them against each other." What does he mean? First of all, in Heinstein's view, the military standoff between the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Ankara was instigated by Moscow. "The Russians supported the US-backed YPG and enabled it to conquer large swaths of territory along the Turkish border," he continues, and thus far it annoyed the Turks who began shelling parts of northern Syria. However, this explanation doesn't hold water. It is no secret that Ankara had repeatedly bombarded Kurdish militias — participants of the US-led coalition fighting against Daesh — in Iraq and northern Syria long before Russia stepped in. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter praised the fighting of Kurdish groups in Syria on March 17, saying they "have proven to be excellent partners of ours on the ground in fighting ISIL (Daesh)," in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to Reuters. According to Heinstein, "a similar scenario unfolded when Moscow supported the YPG in its fight against CIA-backed Sunni Arab rebels." To illustrate his statement the Israeli scholar refers to a story written by Mike Giglio of BuzzFeed. In his article, published on February 20, Giglio cited the commander of the US-backed "rebel battalion," Furqa al-Sultan Murad, who complained that his group in Aleppo came under attack from the Kurdish YPG militia. Murad told the reporter that his battalion had long been receiving "crucial supplies," including TOW anti-tank missiles, from Turkey through the city of Azaz. However, it is known that the same very route had been used by al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliates, the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar Al-Sham to receive military supplies. This begs the question of what faction Murad belonged to and whether it had close ties to al-Qaeda groups in the region. It also begs the question of why the US CIA and the Pentagon would supply weaponry to rival factions in the decade's most deadly conflict. Anyway, it is by no means indicative of Russian guilt: the so-called moderate Syrian rebels have been spotted many times defecting to al-Qaeda and Daesh or intermingling with other Islamic extremists. The once-lauded Free Syrian Army saw many desertions, according to a November 2015 Al Jazeera article, which cited "low pay, poor conditions and fragmentation." "Despite the fact that pro-regime forces in Syria have re-conquered only a minute fraction of Syrian territory since the start of the Russian intervention, Putin's political maneuverings have done a great deal to undermine US foreign policy," Heinstein underscores. Like some other Western and Middle Eastern observers, Heinstein has misinterpreted Russia's Syrian strategy. Commenting on the issue, CIA veteran Paul R. Pillar remarked that critics of the Obama administration's cautious policy in the Middle East insist that Russia jumped at the opportunity to humiliate America by beating it at its own game. "A corollary to this framework is the belief that Russian military activity not only always advances Russian interests but also retards US interests, and that a similar inverse relationship applies to US military activity. Putin does not seem to have fallen into that zero-sum mindset, and there is no good reason for the rest of us to either," Pillar stressed in his analysis for The National Interest. Pillar called attention to the fact that while bolstering the Syrian Arab Army, Moscow has realistic and limited goals in the region. According to the CIA veteran, the cornerstone of the Russian strategy was to create conditions for peaceful negotiations, not an overwhelming victory for Assad's army over the opposition forces. Orwell Prize-winning journalist Anatol Lieven echoed Pillar's stance in his Op-Ed for The New York Times. "The partial Russian military withdrawal at a time when the war has entered a tenuous cease-fire demonstrates the limits of Russia's aims and Mr. Putin's desire to work with — not against — the United States to achieve a settlement," Lieven emphasized. The United States and Russia have many more overlapping interests in the Middle East than anyone can imagine.