The battle lines have been frequently redrawn in the deadly Syrian civil war. However, Russian military intervention shattered the military picture. From the outskirts of Latakia, Syrian rebels are scampering to defend an increasingly encircled Aleppo from outright fall into regime hands.
As regime forces lay siege on remaining crucial rebel supply lines to the Turkish border, it becomes clear that with Geneva III coinciding with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest hands in years, peace talks were always going to fail.
For the rebels, it is increasingly a becoming now or never moment. They rebels are surrounded by regime forces with the Islamic State (IS) in close proximity and to the north, especially around Azaz and the Turkish border, rebels are under pressure from Syrian Kurdish forces, who increasingly feel their strategic goals are more likely to be realized through Moscow than Washington.
Under the cover of relentless Russian airstrikes, rebels groups are increasingly weak on the ground and since leverage at any peace talk will always be heavily swayed by the picture on the ground, Syrian opposition parties will find it difficult to twist Assad or Moscow’s arms with their lofty demands.
Even as major powers agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” in Munich which is due to take effect next week, sheer skepticism and animosity quickly diluted any optimism.
For one, the agreement is not an actual ceasefire, since neither of the warring parties signed the agreement. Secondly, Russia has vowed to continue airstrikes against what they deem as “terrorists”. Thirdly, a buoyant Assad remains ambitious that with Russian support and a potential sealing of the borders he could recapture all of Syria.
Assad recently statement that “… if we negotiate, it does not mean we stop fighting terrorism” does not speak of a man, who after clinging to power at his weakest point is about to relinquish power when he holds the aces.
Russia enjoys a powerful position in the Syrian calculus, and whilst the U.S. is bogged down in the struggle against IS, it can ill-afford the same bold intervention as the Russians or to turn the focus to the removal of Assad, which longed slipped as a priority.
The ball is firmly in the court of Assad and Russia. Assad has always been willing to negotiate but on his terms. If Assad succeeds in sealing the borders and overrunning Aleppo, any peace talks will to him feel like a victory treaty.
However, the war in Syria has proved be fluid and Assad’s renewed position of strength could easily change if Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers decide that after 5 years of immense investment in the opposition cause, they can ill-afford to throw-in the towel.
Assad and his allies are juggling a rapid defeat of rebel forces with the possibility of a Turkish or Saudi ground invasion.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey are already high owed to the Turkish downing of a Russian jet last November. It won’t take much for all-out war if Turkish or Russian forces engage each other once more.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry openly acknowledged that if the peace plan fails then more foreign troops would become a reality in the conflict. As Kerry pointed out, without pressure on Russia or Iranians to hold Assad to any ceasefire or peace talks, then Syrian regime has little reason to back down on their victory march.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc