Russia has sent three messages over the past week or so about the situation in Syria.
First, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front is to be blamed for violating and jeopardising the truce.
“The Nusra terrorist group is active in Aleppo and Idlib today and it is the main obstacle for the further extension of the cessation of hostilities,” the defence ministry said, accusing the group of exploiting the truce to rearm and regroup.
Second, the United States is to be blamed for failing to separate the “moderate opposition units they control from terrorists. That is why further postponing by our American partners in that effort doesn’t only discredit the so called moderate opposition but leads to undermining the peace process.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the deadline to back away from al-Nusra will expire this week.
And third, the Turkey border is still being used to smuggle weapons to “terrorists” in Syria.
“The number of heavy trucks moving from the Turkish-Syrian borders to the region of Azaz [Aleppo province] …and to the region of Darat Izza [Idlib province) has increased significantly,” the defence ministry said.
The statements followed Washington’s refusal to take up an offer from Moscow to cooperate in the “fight against terrorism” in Syria. And the Russian authorities didn’t hide their displeasure.
These statements are being made for a reason. Moscow may be justifying and paving the way for a large-scale offensive against al-Nusra.
Pro-Syrian government media is reporting a “better understanding and better cooperation” between the governments in Russia, Iran and Syria. And there are indications on the ground that lend credence to that claim.
There has always been cooperation but a few weeks ago they did not share the same goal of military operations on the ground.
The Kremlin wanted to shift the balance just enough to push the opposition into making compromises on the negotiating table.
It wanted to work and cooperate with the US administration to push forward the political process. That is why it cut off aerial support to Syrian government troops and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies in Aleppo province.
And that is why no gains were made on the ground
Peace talks have all but collapsed.
Now, the Russian air force has clearly stepped up its engagement. Heavy air strikes in the northern province of Aleppo, particularly on and near the only road in and out of the rebel-controlled east of the city, has practically laid siege to the enclave.
Castello Road is now too dangerous to travel on.
Russia is sending a loud and clear message.
But al-Nusra, which is the leading force in the Jaish al-Fatah army, has sent a message of its own by launching an offensive in the southwestern countryside of Aleppo.
A few weeks ago it recaptured the rebel supply line between Idlib and Aleppo provinces. The goal now is to cut the Syrian government’s main supply line to the areas under its control in Aleppo city
This battle has just begun.