In Multipolarity

By Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail, Feb 16, 2015

The following is a Globe Unlimited article available to subscribers only. Here are several excerpts:

Russian-backed Syrian forces have taken advantage of a weeklong delay in implementing a ceasefire in Syria’s five-year-old civil war to brazenly retake much of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and the surrounding territory…

Russian military intevention in Syria, begun on Sept 30, 2015 (image by Murat Yukselir, Globe and Mail; source Institute for the Study of War)

Russian military intevention in Syria, begun on Sept 30, 2015 (image by Murat Yukselir, Globe and Mail; source Institute for the Study of War)

For one thing, the embattled Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has succeeded in regaining control of the country’s largest city, a cultural icon that once had a population of more than two million. This reacquisition cements the regime’s hold on the major urban centres that run down Syria’s spine: Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo. (A smaller but related initiative in the south is succeeding in retaking control of the city of Daraa, where the events that triggered the war first erupted.)…

For another thing, the northern offensive has succeeded in cutting off much of the Syrian rebels’ lifeline to Turkey. The Azaz Corridor, as it is known, a 100-kilometre-wide zone that runs from Aleppo to the Turkish border, is partly controlled by a mix of rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, and largely controlled by Islamic State forces. On either side of the corridor sit large Kurdish-controlled enclaves.

Ironically, Kurds in both the eastern and western enclaves are taking advantage of the chaos and the weakening of rebel forces to push into the corridor and increase their substantial hold on the border, much to Turkey’s chagrin. Such a development is fine with Russia. Its strategy in Syria has been threefold: to safeguard the Alawite areas near the port of Latakia, where Russia has established its military base; to strengthen the Assad regime by driving the rebels back from the central cities; and to cut off the rebels’ supply line with Turkey.

The first two elements have largely been achieved, and now, with the severing of the main road through Azaz, the third is nearly complete…

Turkey, however, is so concerned by the prospect of an all-Kurdish territory on its border that it has been firing on Kurdish forces as they advance across the corridor. On Tuesday, Ankara announced it is in discussions with allies, including the United States, about collaborating on a military incursion into Northern Syria. (Ankara, it seems, would prefer to have the Islamic State on its frontier rather than Kurds, who might encourage other Kurds in Turkey to rebel.)…

Turkey has long sought the creation of a no-fly zone in this Azaz area, a place where Syrians could take refuge without crossing over into Turkey (and Europe). Washington has always rejected such a thing, claiming it would lead to a greater U.S. role on the ground and a potential confrontation with Russian forces. However, Germany on Monday endorsed the idea and others may soon follow suit…

Read also:
Syrian government to allow humanitarian access to besieged areas, Reuters, in Globe and Mail, Feb 16, 2016 (full text)

GENEVA — The Syrian government has approved access to seven besieged areas and United Nations convoys are expected to set off in days, the UN said on Tuesday after crisis talks in Damascus.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who won the green light at talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, said the world body would test the government commitment to allow access on Wednesday but gave no details.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Syria had approved access to Deir Ezzor; Foua and Kafraya in Idlib; and Madaya, Zabadani, Kafr Batna and Mouadamiya al-Sham in rural Damascus.

“Humanitarian agencies and partners are preparing convoys for these areas, to depart as soon as possible in the coming days,” the OCHA said. It was not immediately clear whether the convoys would begin on Wednesday, as Mr. de Mistura had indicated.

The Syrian government is, meanwhile, advancing in the north of the country, with Russian air support. Damascus says its main objectives are to recapture Aleppo – Syria’s biggest city before the war – and seal the Turkish border, which has served as a lifeline to rebel-held territory for years.

Those would be the biggest victories for Damascus of the war so far, and would all but end rebel hopes of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, the goal they have pursued since 2011 with the support of the West, Arab states and Turkey.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Hussam Aala, said in an interview in the daily Tribune de Genève: “We have done all we could to facilitate the passage of aid convoys in January and February. The advance of the Syrian army in this region has allowed us to break the siege imposed against two towns, [Nubl and Zahraa]. It opened the way for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver aid to 70,000 residents. Our objective was to cut all the supply routes for arms and for men to the terrorist groups armed by Turkey.”

Turkey seeks allies’ [sic] support for ground operation in Syria, Reuters, in Globe and Mail, Feb 16, 2016

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some European allies want ground troops deployed in Syria as a Russian-backed government advance nears NATO’s southeastern border, Turkey’s foreign minister said, but Washington has so far ruled out a major offensive…

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