While the US rearranges chairs around the table for another round of diplomacy over the fate of Syria in Geneva, Russia, Iran and their allies are rearranging the armies on the battlefield, undermining the very basis for the negotiating process the Americans are counting on. The AP reports:
In November, government troops broke a three-year siege of the Kweiras air base in the northern province of Aleppo, and in December they captured another air base, Marj al-Sultan, in an opposition stronghold near the capital, Damascus. Allied fighters from the Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, as well as Iranian military advisers and pro-government militias, have helped the army take several areas in and around Latakia province, the heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which dominates the military and government.
The latest victory came last week with the capture of the town of Salma, one of the most significant government advances since the Russian air campaign began. Overlooking the coast, it is only 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the border with Turkey, a key supporter of rebels in the area.
“The Syrian army has shifted from a defensive mode to offense,” said Gerges. “Before the Russian intervention the army was bleeding, it was desperately trying to maintain its position, but now it has achieved major tactical gains on many fronts.”
This does not bode well for the Geneva talks, as neither side will be interested in making compromises while the front lines are in a state of flux, Gerges added.
Noted Syria expert Joshua Landis put it more bluntly in an interview with the LA Times:
“Assad is winning. Russian air power [has] changed the entire dynamic of what’s going on, and it just gives the Syrian army an incredible boost. […] What I’m hearing from Damascus is that it has taken time to digest the new technology, for the Russians to get well situated, get the intelligence they require and know what they’re doing.”
It’s almost as if the Russians aren’t trying to help us—and it’s almost as if diplomacy disconnected from policy doesn’t really get you anywhere.