It’s a bitter pill for our establishment to swallow but there is now the real prospect that the Syrian government of President Assad will gain a clear military victory.
Russian air power is “allowing Assad forces to advance against previously formidable foes,” said Jennifer Cafarella, Syria analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Study of War. “The regime has achieved a decisive advantage in Aleppo.”
When Syrian forces took control of the village of Murassat Khan and adjacent towns north of Aleppo they cut the main Turkey-Aleppo insurgent supply line. This also ended one of the main ISIS oil supply corridors to Turkey. Syrian government forces are likely to gain more territory and encircle all opposition forces (predominantly Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS).
Additionally if Syrian government forces move north and work with the Kurds in the northeast almost all hostile forces would be isolated. The Syrian Kurds are also considering closing the ISIS-controlled corridor linking to Turkey, particularly the Jarablus border crossing.
Turkey has made desperate threats that it would send troops into Syria if its ISIS allies were cut-off in this way or the Kurds linked-up on its border. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made it crystal clear (to Turkey and to everyone else) that Russia intends to assist in closing the border area between ISIS-held territory and Turkey: “The key point for the ceasefire to work is a task of blocking illegal trafficking across the Turkish-Syrian border, which supports the militants,” he said. “Without closing the border it is difficult to expect the ceasefire to take place.”
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Saturday that there would be no cease-fire until government forces re-establish control over the country’s borders with Turkey and Jordan, the state-run news service SANA reported.
Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired Foreign Intelligence Service general who now heads a Kremlin advisory group, said Russia’s main goal for now is to cut off the northwestern rebels from their base of support in Turkey.
“We will continue this operation methodically until we close the border,” he said. “There’s a chance that the more populated areas will be liberated in the next few months and that by June we’ll get to Raqqa,” the capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Turkey is unlikely to get much NATO support for any rash moves and faces Russian air superiority. Russia has deployed several of its latest advanced fighter jets to Syria (which easily outclass Turkish F-16s) and also repaired and upgraded the Syrian air force’s capability.
Public statements from those within or sympathetic to rebel groups indicate a growing demoralisation. Rebel factions have increased difficulties in retaining fighters. Fighters who once tolerated division and infighting among the anti-government forces find it harder to do so as the scale of destruction has increased since the Russian air onslaught.