Assad’s victory in Aleppo underscores his dependence on outsiders who will shape Syria’s future

Foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) of Turkey and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, prepare for a news conference in Moscow, December 20th 2016. The 3 will reportedly decide the fate of Syria
Foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) of Turkey and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, prepare for a news conference in Moscow, December 20th 2016. The 3 will reportedly decide the fate of Syria

Under different circumstances, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s capture of Aleppo would project an aura of invincibility. He has survived nearly six years of revolt.

Instead, it has underscored his dependence on outside powers.

Turkey, Iran, and Russia have tilted recent events in his favor, and it is those three players — and perhaps the incoming Trump administration — that are now best placed to determine Syria’s endgame.

The three nations met in Moscow last week for talks on Syria that pointedly included no Syrians, indicating they prefer to pursue a grand bargain among great powers rather than a domestic settlement between the government and the opposition.

The warming of ties between Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides of the civil war, may prove to be a game changer, potentially helping to end a conflict that has confounded the world’s top diplomats for more than five years.

Their joint efforts on Syria — there is now talk of a nationwide cease-fire — reflect a desire to establish spheres of influence. Turkey might drop its support for rebels fighting Assad in exchange for freedom of movement in a border region where its troops are battling the Islamic State group and trying to curb the advance of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute, called the Moscow summit “a perfect example of how the Syria solution is now about a grand bargain whereby other countries negotiate on behalf of Syrians.”

Syria’s army was only able to win the battle of Aleppo with Russian support and the aid of thousands of Iran-backed militiamen from across the region. Turkey struck a deal with Russia to manage the rebels’ surrender when they were on the verge of total defeat.

Turkey was an early backer of the rebels, allowing them to retreat and rearm across its largely porous border. But as Syrian Kurdish forces – answerable neither to Assad nor to his opponents – have expanded their canton along the border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come to view them as a greater threat than Assad.

Turkey sees the main Syrian Kurdish faction as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in its southwest. It has also grown increasingly concerned about IS following a series of attacks. The Syrian Kurds are battling IS, but Turkey describes both as “terrorists” who must be eliminated.

In August, Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces poured across the border, and in the following weeks they drove IS from its last strongholds along the frontier and halted the Kurdish advance.

With more than 5,000 forces inside Syria and a seat at the table, Turkey seems poised to establish a “sphere of influence” in northern Syria, according to Faysal Itani, an analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

It will likely press the issue when it meets with Russia and Iran in Kazakhstan next month. The Syrian government and some conciliatory opposition groups will be there, but it’s unclear whether Syria’s main, armed opposition will be invited.

The U.N. has meanwhile vowed to relaunch the long-defunct Geneva negotiations between the government and the armed opposition on Feb. 8. That process has repeatedly failed to produce tangible outcomes.

The deepening involvement of the outside powers has strengthened the government, but there are still large parts of the country outside its control, and many retaken areas have been reduced to rubble. The rebuilding effort in Aleppo alone is expected to require tens of billions of dollars , and the government is unlikely to get much Western aid.

“Europe has the money for reconstruction, and not Russia and Iran, and (Western nations) have made it clear they will not legitimize the regime,” said Bassam Barabandi, a political adviser to the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee.

Any efforts to strike a grand bargain will also need to contend with a new U.S. administration that has hinted at a major change in policy while providing few details.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants closer cooperation with Russia in order to combat IS, while also suggesting he could drop U.S. support for the armed opposition. “We have no idea who these people are,” he said in a newspaper interview last month.

On the other hand, he is openly hostile toward Iran and may seek to curb its influence in Syria.

Either way, despite the government’s victory in Aleppo, Syria’s fate is unlikely to be determined in Damascus.

  • 5thDrawer

    Always seems to be some ‘negativity’ in ‘opinions’ on freeing and making a little more safe the lives of the citizens of a country – whether or not they have buildings to live in. Campgrounds CAN be made comfortable, if wished – for a lot less money. And when half a population was forced to be living elsewhere, the Syrian people showed their sudden joy in finally not having various kinds of munitions dropping killing devices on them ALL the time. ‘Others’ experienced the same joys not really so long ago.
    Nothing can be more ‘positive’ than that, FOR ‘the people’.
    And after the past years, I’m sure they know it.
    And YES, of course the ‘major players’ want a ‘say’ in ‘Syria Matters’ discussions. The ‘negativity’ will be seen in how they PRESENT THEMSELVES, when stepping up to the troughs of oil – which they yet claim is not theirs.
    If they act simply like larger ‘tribes’ do, I’m sure we’ll hear about that too, when ‘the people’ speak now. 😉
    The QUESTION is about if they will be allowed to – under the hail of ‘opinions’ on how a family should operate.

    SPEAKING of weather …
    The campgrounds of the biggest (first of what is now the largest Jordanian cities) have slowly improved, from their desperate beginnings. And it seems that mud and cold and common colds-bugs are the ‘diseases’ are major reasons for any complaining beyond being killed outright.
    Now that there’s a ‘chance’ to ‘have some peace’, even these ‘TOPS’ with the ‘limited funds’ should be able to plan a city or 2 without forcing the earlier circumstances on the inhabitants. Omar The Tent-Maker assuredly has optional refinements, and walkways and roads don’t need to dust bowls which turn into quicksand when wet.
    Even as kids here, we used ‘portable’ buildings for schools, when populations out-grew loftier budgets.
    There was no mud encountered while running from the main building to the portable, on a paved surface.
    And we knew that bitching about getting the fresh air for a minute or two, wasn’t going to change the circumstances of our lowly existence, except by the moments of positive freshness. Nose-bleeds were reduced too, when they added humidifiers to the heating system of the portable …. for an example of learning while experiencing. Millions of North Americans already live their lives in ‘portable’ buildings, and find them comfortable with a few added elements, which they are free to add as they wish, within ‘coded’ rules for safety, while having jobs – often working to build more permanent structures. There’s positivity even in building ‘temples of worship’ when folks are paid for the efforts.
    And ‘WEATHER’ – as everyone knows (except Trump, perhaps) – is realistically the only factor we can’t get around. As millions find each year – the ‘portables’ can be replaced easily too.

    SO After the battles, our positive crying should be: ‘Use those Fat Heads all you ‘power-brokers’, while working WITH Assad FOR the people, if they insist on keeping him hanging around a while longer.’
    A Hundred years from now, as bankers always calculate, the people of that time may have some permanence once again, as they thought they had for thousands of years, IF the ‘brokers’ have actually learned something – as we thought they had in 1950.
    And See the ‘positivity’ – in the lessons taken TWICE within the hundred years – by ‘humanity’.

  • HebAlba

    ‘Either way, despite the government’s victory in Aleppo, Syria’s fate is unlikely to be determined in Damascus.’, this threat is signed Opinion fake news, suffice to read the term ‘Civil War’.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFW38lPa1XY

  • HebAlba

    ‘Either way, despite the government’s victory in Aleppo, Syria’s fate is unlikely to be determined in Damascus.’, this is a threat signed Opinion fake news, suffice to read the term ‘Civil War’.
    Footage; protected US moderate monsters fire supplied anti-tanks missile on innocent civilians walking down the street in Southern Aleppo, screaming Allahuakbar!!
    https://southfront.org/footage-moderate-rebels-fire-us-supplied-anti-tank-missile-on-civilians-walking-street-in-southern-aleppo/

  • Jason Pillay

    The terrorists and their NATO/Wahhabi/Zionist backers are the outsiders.