Does fall of Aleppo spell end game for Syrian civil war?

The brutal Syrian war has taken a grave humanitarian toll with cities lying in rubble and a nation bitterly divided with seemingly no end in sight.

The brutal Syrian war has taken a grave humanitarian toll with cities lying in rubble and a nation bitterly divided with seemingly no end in sight. However, the symbolic recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian regime may be a prelude to the end of the war.

The persistent bombardment of Aleppo by Syrian forces, backed by their Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies proved decisive. As the opposition was defeated, attention turned to the dire humanitarian situation with thousands of civilians trying to escape.

The continually changing agreements over the evacuation of eastern Aleppo confirmed the Syrian regime and its allies have the upper hand.

However, the fall of Aleppo does not mean a quick end to the war or lessening of the complex Syrian landscape.

As recently as October, an upbeat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad emphasized that victory in Aleppo would act as a springboard “to liberate other areas from terrorists," with rebel-held Idlib province earmarked as his next key focus.

As much as Assad hailed the capture of Aleppo as “history in the making,” his next move hinges largely on his Russian and Iranian backers.

Russian intervention in late 2015 was decisive as it saved Assad from the brink of collapse. However, Russia and Iran have their own strategic goals and unconditional support for Assad cannot continue, as he remains firmly under the control of his strategic allies.

With various rounds of peace talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition taking months to plan and usually days to fail, a political solution has proved elusive. And, a military solution from either side is an unrealistic outcome.

Assad forces are already stretched, and a multi-fronted battle is not a scenario they can maintain. This was shown as Islamic State (IS) forces advanced on Palmyra just as regime forces were in celebratory mode.

An opposition defeat in Aleppo marks a significant setback for various groups opposed to Assad, but territorially this is not significant. For example, vast areas of the country are in the hands of the Kurds, IS forces and of course the opposition.

The goal of Assad or his backers is unlikely to try and wrestle control of all of Syria. Assad does not have the desire or the ability to achieve such goals.

The fall of Aleppo would merely underscore the division of Syria. Assad would benefit tremendously, retaining control of the vital Mediterranean coast, control of strategic cities and almost all population centers.

The Kurds are unlikely to relinquish the lands they already command leaving the opposition with pockets of territory around the remaining control of the Turkish border.

With his Alawite rump state preserved, giving rebels control of areas that do not have strategic value is unlikely to bother Assad.

The only true game changer for the opposition is physical support from the US-led coalition. However, the US has often delivered unyielding rhetoric but failed to back this up with firm action.

For Turkey, its goals changed from ousting Assad, which they deemed an unrealistic prospect owed to Russian backing and US soft peddling, to keeping the Syrian Kurds in check.

That said, the time may be ripe for a political solution, albeit one that will be on the terms of Assad and his allies.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is already in discussions over a new peace initiative but this time to be held in Kazakhstan, a symbolic shunning of the West. He told reporters, “Syrian forces have achieved success in allowing the Syrian people to lead their ordinary lives and return to their homes, next step is an agreement about stopping all the fighting, all the shooting."

The fact that Moscow is dealing more with Ankara in the recent agreement to evacuate rebels in Aleppo as well as the new settlement shows how US influence has waned. This was underscored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating “it is easier for Moscow to reach an agreement with Turkey on Aleppo than with the U.S.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power vowed that Assad and his allies would “bear responsibility for those atrocities” and decried “is there literally nothing that can shame you?"

US President Barack Obama stated that Assad and his backers had “blood on their hands” and that the world was “united in horror.”

As with previous rhetoric and UN outcries, Moscow managed to brush off the criticism quickly.

Without a real military threat, Assad had not a reason to negotiate. Obama proved unwilling throughout the war to take firm action with changing red-lines, and in contrast, Putin met his threats with real action that changed the course of the Syrian war.


Editing by Delovan Barwari