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Putin And Trump May Decide Syria’s Future

by Gamini Weerakoon

Russians stepped in to help Assad on September 30, 2015

  • With the fall of Aleppo, Assad will control Syria’s five major cities
  • The election of Donald Trump could result in an entirely different ball game

The most horrendous tragedy in war since World War II was witnessed globally last week in the comfort of sitting rooms as helpless civilians cried out desperately on TV screens to be saved but no help went their way. This is a fallout of war in the Electronic Age where regimes – on being threatened with extinction by powerful opposition forces – finally on the brink of victory will not be held back by humanitarian appeals and are determined to exterminate the enemy.

Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

The causes of the Syrian revolt against the bloody dictatorships of the Assads – Hafez the father for 21 years and his successor, son Bashar for 16 years, will continue to be debated for years to come. But what of the immediate future of Syria?

Russian rescue

The Bashar al Assad regime was reeling under the assault of the US backed Syrian liberation forces when Russians stepped in to help Assad on September 30, 2015.
At that time there was the strident call within Syria and also internationally, for Assad to step down. UN sponsored talks with Russia and the United States worked out a strategy for a ceasefire, an interim government and elections to be held for democratically elected government. The underlying demand was: Assad must go.
Russian forces came in on the claim of fighting the terrorists, ISIS. Instead they launched air attacks on camps of Syrian rebel forces and not of ISIS, US and other Western backers of the anti-Assad front claimed. The Russian-Syrian regime claim was that they were bombing ‘terrorists’ such as of Al Nusra that comprised a part of rebel forces.
Meanwhile, Russia emboldened by US President Barack Obama’s declaration of not having ‘military boots on the ground’ though launching air attacks on the ISIS and sending a limited number of military advisers, continued its forays into anti-Assad held areas particularly on Aleppo. Russia declared that its bombings in Aleppo would come to a halt in September 18 (this year) but the crude and incessant bombing of Aleppo by Assad’s air force reduced most of eastern Aleppo held by rebel forces to rubble.

Let down

Had the US and Western backed rebel forces been provided with armaments like surface-to-air missiles, the bombing of this second biggest city in Syria at will of the Assad regime would not have been. Months before the fall of eastern Aleppo with Russian backing and Iranian militants operating alongside Assad’s forces, it was apparent that the free Syrian forces were doomed.
Analysts have predicted that with the fall of Aleppo, Assad will control Syria’s five major cities but only 1/3rd of the territory. Rebels still hold substantial land areas while ISIS has much of eastern Syria. Last week they recaptured the historic Palmyra region – declared a protected area by UNESCO. Kurds were fighting ISIS to control vast areas of the north-east. These scattered groups could well result in the formation of guerilla groups against the Assad regime, some analysts have predicted.
Bashar al Assad’s future would be very much dependent on his savior, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Syria was Russia’s only ally in the Middle East and Russia has a naval base Tartus on the Mediterranean coast, which it leased from Syria in 1971.
Putin’s objectives in Syria appear to transcend the survival of Assad. Iran is the prospective Middle East ally and Russian aircraft have used Iran’s bases for Syrian operations. Iran’s desire to be a regional Middle East power countering hitherto pro-West Saudi Arabia is in consonance with Russian interests.

Trump into the fray

The election of Donald Trump as American president could result in an entirely different ball game involving Russia and Syria. Trump in his presidential campaign expressed his empathy with Russia and Syria and the possibility of joint action against ISIS. “Syrians kill ISIS and Russians kill ISIS”, he quipped.
Last week’s appointment of Rex Tillerson, CEO of the oil giant Exxon Mobile, who had had close relations with Russia and President Putin, as Secretary of State, it is believed would not only impact relations with Syria but also result in a geopolitical fallout such as on NATO that has forces to borders of Russia. Meanwhile, anti-Russian sentiments are building up not only among Democrats but also in the Republican Party of Donald Trump on the hacking of American computer servers.
Donald Trump, it appears, could play a key role in the direction which Syria and Assad could take. But right now, going by the actions of tempestuous American president elect, guessing what he would do next is extremely hazardous.
Meanwhile, the civilians and defenders of Aleppo are being finally evacuated into safe areas from their homes that have been reduced to rubble.
The words of a citizen unwillingly departing from his city will surely ring in the ears of all who were helplessly watching the tragedy: “We will always remember and never forget that the criminals of the world forced Allepo’s people to choose between two options, collective death or forced displacement. We chose the lesser of the two crimes.”
Where these hapless people are being taken is not certain. The so called international community, at least now, could ease their suffering to some extent.

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