Turning Point: The Inevitable Liberation of Aleppo

The liberation of Aleppo is inevitable and we can only argue about the timeframes, Valdai Club expert Vladimir Yevseyev says. Turkey, for its part, has few prospects of success in Syria, as it will be under pressure from both the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian army.

Aleppo could only be liberated by force, and Turkish forces operating in northern Syria will be unable to consolidate their hold as the Syrian army seeks to clear the whole of northern Aleppo province of rebels. This forecast was shared with www.valdaiclub.com by Vladimir Yevseyev, military expert and head of the Eurasian Integration and SCO Development Section at the Institute of CIS Countries.

Rebel-held territory in Aleppo has shrunk by more than 40 percent in a matter of several days. Civilians are leaving the occupied areas en masse unlike a few days ago, when their exit was blocked by rebel sniper fire.

Earlier Russia announced a humanitarian pause in Eastern Aleppo, which lasted for 19 days (from October 20 to November 7) until the Islamists attempted to fight their way to the sealed-off city areas from the west. Yevseyev noted that after a second attempt at unsealing these areas, the rebels ran out of reserves in Idlib Province.

“The liberation of Aleppo is inevitable. We can only argue about the timeframes – for example, before the New Year. The liberation of Aleppo will signify a turning point in the entire Syrian campaign. More likely than not, this will be followed by the liberation of Aleppo province, and then, in all evidence, by the liberation of the parts of Latakia and Hama provinces that are currently controlled by the radicals. This will make it possible to isolate the radicals in Idlib province,” he said.

On November 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Turkish forces had invaded Syria to “put an end to the domination of the cruel tyrant Assad,” not to fight Daesh (banned in Russia), as claimed before. The Kremlin replied that Russia expected explanations; the Foreign Ministry added that Moscow would for the time being continue to abide by the understandings it had reached with Turkey.

Earlier, a Syrian air attack in northern Aleppo province killed three Turkish soldiers. According to reports, Syrian troops fought an engagement with Turkey-supported rebels near the Daesh-held town of Al-Bab. 

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The Syrian crisis has become the next global “great game,” in which many of the world’s major powers are pursuing very different outcomes. The presence of outside powers complicates resolving the conflict, as every Syrian party must reconcile its goals with those of its patrons.

Yevseyev believes Turkey has no prospects of success in Syria because the Turks will be under pressure from both the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian army. He added that Turkey’s withdrawal from northern Aleppo province was inevitable.

“The Turks are unlikely to consolidate their hold on Syria. What we are talking about now is disengagement. They are preserving the current state of affairs with regard to Al-Bab which is of fundamental importance for the Syrian Kurds because its liberation and holding by the Turks is hindering reunification with the Afrin canton,” he said.

According to Vladimir Yevseyev, the “buffer zone” that Turkey intends to create in northern Syria lacks prospects: there is no infrastructure or job openings in the area. It is also unclear where funds for local refugees will come from.

“This is why the Turkish plans for Syria will be changing. Developments will be determined by the now unobvious tension between Turkey and Syria. The possibility of gradually driving the militants out of northwestern Syria will primarily hinge on Russian-Turkish understandings. The next stage is to drive the Turkish troops from Syria,” he said.

While Russia-US cooperation in northeastern Syria is impossible, a campaign in the south, where the majority of rebels are supported by the United States, has much more promise. “The fact that the antiterrorist coalition left Turkey and mostly redeployed to Jordan suits Russia perfectly. Actually, the US is losing control over northern Syria. This turn of events is benefitting both Syria and Moscow. Turkey for its part is an indirect partner, but it will not be allowed to dig in in Syria and will have to leave that country,” he said.

Commenting on the Israeli bombing in es-Sabur, west of Damascus, Yevseyev said the air strike was rather typical. As a rule the Israeli air force attacks convoys sent by Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian army.

He believes that Moscow and Tel Aviv may have reached an arrangement that Israel can carry out strikes of this sort, provided it does not interfere in the conflict directly. “Evidently Israel has committed not to interfere actively in the conflict. The damage from destroying convoys is limited and doesn’t affect the campaign’s fate. In the meantime, Israel’s neutrality will facilitate the expansion of Damascus’ zone of control. We expect western and eastern Ghouta to be liberated, including by organizing exit corridors for militants and their families,” he said.

After the end of large-scale hostilities in northern Syria, which Yevseyev thinks could be expected by spring 2017, Russia will have an opportunity for cooperation with the United States.

“If we manage to reach certain agreements with the Trump administration, joint combat operations against Daesh are quite possible. Then the issue of eastern Syria will emerge on the agenda. At any rate, the American apology for Deir ez-Zor indicates that they are looking for a compromise. As for northwestern Syria, Russia-US cooperation there is impossible, but there are certain options in this regard in the south and the east. But the determining factor is what position is taken by the incoming US administration and whether it will be ready to compromise,” Vladimir Yevseyev said in conclusion. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.