Back in October, we previewed the “promised” battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city prior to the war.
By the time Russia began constructing an air base at Latakia, the city - which is immensely important both from a strategic and psychological perspective - was controlled by a hodgepodge of rebels and militants including al-Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army, and ISIS.
As we noted four months ago, if Russia and Hezbollah manage to recapture the city, it would effectively restore the Assad government in Syria even if the east of the country is still controlled by Islamic State.
In many ways, the city is emblematic of the wider conflict. Here are a few visuals which underscore the extent of the desolation and utter sorrow that plague this once thriving urban center.
Despite the fact that the city - like many others across the country - has been reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble, it's key to Russia and Iran's plans to consolidate Assad's power in the west of the country.
As noted above, if the SAA can retake Aleppo, Assad will have control of most of the country's major urban centers, effectively restoring his grip on power.
So critical is the city, that when the SAA, Hezbollah, and a variety of Shiite militas were gearing up for the push north, Quds commander Qassem Soleimani himself showed up to rally the troops (he was later injured on the frontlines).
Fast forward four months and it appears that after a protracted fight, Russia and Hezbollah are indeed poised to recapture the city where militants are now surrounded. Critically, Russia and Iran have now cut off supply lines from Turkey.
"Backed by Russian firepower and Hezbollah militants, Syrian government troops have cut off rebel supply lines between the northern city of Aleppo and Turkey," Bloomberg writes. "Taking Aleppo, Syria’s former commercial hub, would give Russia, Iran and Assad more bargaining power at any future settlement talks and more say in how the region will be redefined."
Speaking of settlement talks, negotiations in Geneva brokered in part by John Kerry were suspended on Wednesday as a Saudi-backed rebel coalition voiced anger over Russia's airstrikes near Aleppo. On Thursday, Kerry demanded that Moscow halt the offensive so peace talks could resume. Although America's top diplomat swears his phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov was "robust" Lavrov said on Wednesday The Kremlin doesn't see why the campaign against "the terrorists" should stop. "I can't see any reason why we should halt our aerial operations until the terrorists shall be defeated'', Lavrov said, flatly.
"On the ground, nearly 40,000 people have fled an offensive this week by President Bashar al-Assad's regime north of the city of Aleppo," AFP said on Thursday, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (or in other words, "citing one guy in London"). "Assad's forces also entered two Shiite villages that were under siege by rebels, prompting what state news agency SANA called 'mass celebrations' in the streets of Nubol and Zahraa."
For their part, the Turks are of course blaming the Russians for the stalled peace talks.
"Russia continues to kill people in Syria. Could there be such a peace gathering? Could there be such peace talks?" President Tayyip Erdogan asked in a speech in Peru."In an environment where children are still being killed, such attempts do not have any function apart from making things easier for the tyrant," he said.
And trust us, Erdogan knows something about what makes "things easier for a tyrant."
In any event, the urgency expressed by the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey shouldn't be mistaken for some kind of benevolent regard for the lives are lost each and every day the war drags on. Rather, Washington, Riyadh, and Ankara know that if Aleppo falls, that's it for the "moderate" opposition.
The way Washington and the military establishment have been talking these days, you’d think that the Russians are going to be paradropping onto our high schools any day now. Ever since Russia put its foot down over Syria, our government has taken a hard stance against them, and you can see it in their rhetoric. The same propaganda machine that turned for World War Two, the Cold War, and the War on Terror, is once again turning for the Russians.
As time goes on, our government is putting more emphasis on the Russians and less on terrorism. ISIS will probably be the last Islamic bogeyman that our government can muster. After that, it’s just going to be Russia and China (and domestic terrorists, but that’s a story for another day).
And never has our government hyped the Russian threat in recent history, like they did this week. On Tuesday, there were two major developments in this regard, starting with the release of a report on how weak our military is in Eastern Europe.
Those options include a NATO led counter-attack, threatening to use nuclear weapons, or admitting defeat and cutting their losses before engaging in a new Cold War with Russia.
On the same day that this report came out, the Pentagon released another report that explained the shortcomings of our military. After more than a decade of fighting terrorists and insurgents, our military is ill-equipped to compete with the conventional forces of Russia and China. And several years of budget cuts that were designed to make our military leaner and more agile, we don’t have enough soldiers or heavy weapons to counter both of these threats. Essentially, the Pentagon hopes to make our military into the unstoppable juggernaut it once was.
And within that report, was a call to quadruple the budget for our military in Europe, and send billions of dollars worth of tanks and armored vehicles along Russia’s borders, particularly in the Baltic region. Obviously, the Russians were none too pleased about this development.
In reality, none of this has anything to do with defending NATO, and everything to do with dominating and encircling Russia. All these reports that are blustering about how vulnerable NATO is and how dangerous the Russians are, have deliberately failed to see the bigger picture.
I do think Russia and Turkey are worth watching. If they do get drawn into war, it will be telling if NATO allies back Turkey, thus legitimicizing the Turkish invasion of Syria.
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