Aleppo can be a turning point in Syria's civil war

Russia's help in recapturing Aleppo is only the beginning of Moscow's support for the Assad regime.

    Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Ajuziyah following government air strikes on the outskirts of Aleppo [AFP]
    Smoke rises from buildings in the area of Ajuziyah following government air strikes on the outskirts of Aleppo [AFP]

    During the 48 hours of the failed Syrian ceasefire talks in Geneva last week, Russian planes conducted 320 air strikes in Aleppo. In truth, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was never serious about a ceasefire, and neither was his partner in crime Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

    Their strategy was to draw out the talks as long as possible to give Russian-backed Syrian forces more time to make important battlefield gains. Thanks to Russia's air support, Syrian forces are advancing faster than anyone expected on Aleppo. After only two days the talks collapsed and tens of thousands of refugees are now fleeing towards Turkey.

    Once again, Russia and its allies have come out on top.

    Syrian government forces scale up their assault to recapture Aleppo

    As Russian air strikes assist Assad's forces in retaking Aleppo, the world should consider two things. First, the recapture of Aleppo would make it highly unlikely that Assad and his cronies would return to the negotiating table. In Putin's eyes the world is a zero-sum game and in Syria he is winning … not negotiating.

    Second, Russia's help in recapturing Aleppo is only the beginning, not the pinnacle, of Moscow's support for the Assad regime. It is true that the Russians have helped the Syrian military to recapture smaller and less significant parts of the country from rebel forces, but Aleppo is different.

    Turning point

    Before the civil war Aleppo was one of the largest cities in the Levant and served as the economic heart of Syria. Bringing Aleppo back under regime control - no matter how devastated and no matter what the cost might be - is a turning point in this civil war.

    ANALYSIS: A reluctant Russia in the Middle East? 

    If Assad chooses to negotiate, he will be doing so from a position of strength. For Assad personally, regaining Aleppo will serve as a major propaganda coup and shore up his support among those still supporting the regime in Damascus.

    Syrians fleeing Aleppo [Daylife]

    Russia also stands to benefit greatly from the recapture of Aleppo. Putin is not one to do things by half measures. For better or for worse, he is "in it to win it" in Syria and backs up his rhetoric with action.

    Unlike US President Barack Obama, who says that Assad "has to go" but does nothing to see this through, when Putin says that Assad will remain in power he does everything to ensure this outcome.

    Putin has invested a lot of political capital at home and a lot of Russian clout abroad with his Syrian adventure, and he cannot afford for it to go wrong. Putin knows that success in Syria can open up opportunities for him in other places such as Ukraine.

    Unlike US President Barack Obama, who says that Assad 'has to go' but does nothing to see this through, when Putin says that Assad will remain in power he does everything to ensure this outcome.


    After two recent trips to the Middle East, I was struck by how few policymakers and commentators see Russia’s involvement in Syria for what it really is: one part of a well-thought-out grand strategy to maximise Russian influence all over the globe.

    Russia's intervention in Syria should not be viewed in isolation. The capture of Aleppo means that Moscow will have many more bargaining chips when it comes to dealing with the West over issues such as Ukraine or Georgia.

    For the Kremlin, pressing issues such as ending the economic sanctions over Ukraine, getting the West to turn a blind eye to the annexation of Crimea, or stopping NATO bases in Eastern Europe can be directly linked to a ceasefire in Syria.

    Moscow has a long history of linking different issues to its advantage at the international negotiating table - what Russia is doing in Syria is no different.

    In it for the long haul

    In the same way that Russia is only an Asian power and not a European power without exerting influence in Eastern Europe, Russia is only a regional power and not a global power if it is not an actor in the Middle East. 

    Russia will do everything it can to frustrate Western policy in Syria and make the West use more resources and energy to act in Syria. The more resources and focus that is placed on Syria, the less is given to places such as the Baltics, Ukraine, or Georgia.

    READ MORE: Putin declares checkmate on Syria

    Russia might be feeling the pain with the low oil prices but this will not stop Putin supporting Assad. Russia has doubled down on its hand and continues backing Assad no matter what the consequences.

    Putin is in it for the long haul in Syria.

    This is not the first time Russian troops have been fighting for Aleppo.

    In the year 1030, troops from the Kievan Rus' - predecessor to modern-day Russia - were part of a force that fought in the Battle of Azaz alongside Byzantine Emperor Romanus III against the Mirdasid dynasty of Aleppo.

    Romanus III and his Russian allies might have lost that battle but they ended up winning the war.   

    Today, it looks like Syrian and Russian troops will win the Battle of Aleppo, but it remains to be seen if they will win the war.

    Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC-based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



    Meet the deported nurse aiding asylum seekers at US-Mexico border

    Meet the deported nurse helping refugees at the border

    Francisco 'Panchito' Olachea drives a beat-up ambulance around Nogales, taking care of those trying to get to the US.

    The rise of Pakistan's 'burger' generation

    The rise of Pakistan's 'burger' generation

    How a homegrown burger joint pioneered a food revolution and decades later gave a young, politicised class its identity.

    'We will cut your throats': The anatomy of Greece's lynch mobs

    The brutality of Greece's racist lynch mobs

    With anti-migrant violence hitting a fever pitch, victims ask why Greek authorities have carried out so few arrests.