Aleppo: Evolution of a crucial battle

About the author: Corentin was a student in international relations at HEIP Paris and moved to Moscow where he now follows a Master Degree at the institute of international relations (MGIMO). He is an expert of Global affairs and especially of politics in Russia. Back to July 2012 The battle of Aleppo started in July […]

A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district of Aleppo on 13 November, 2014AFP

About the author: Corentin was a student in international relations at HEIP Paris and moved to Moscow where he now follows a Master Degree at the institute of international relations (MGIMO). He is an expert of Global affairs and especially of politics in Russia.

Back to July 2012

The battle of Aleppo started in July 2012. Some observers viewed a new defeat for the Syrian government but startlingly, loyal forces didn’t fall back. With this resistance began the worst battle of the Syrian civil war. Aleppo was divided between the East and the West, between rebels and the Assad government. Rebels could not take heavy weapons, faced organized and trained army but the Assad forces were alone and almost defeated.

Furthermore, rebels planned an offensive on Damascus which meant that Syrian army could not receive any further help.

The turnover: September 2015


Nevertheless, despite this situation rebels didn’t reach the other side of the city. Mostly because of the war between rebels and islamists groups like ISIL or the Front Al-Nosra. They could not use their advantages at this moment. And the battle follows the same for 3 years before the offensive.

In September 2015, Vladimir Putin president of the Russian Federation and supporter of the Al-Assad regime, decided to strike against islamist groups and also all the rebels. With an important aerial air support, Damascus planned an offensive in order to recapture the lost territories.

In February 2016, Syrian forces and allies of Al-Assad broke the siege of Nubul and Zahara –  two key villages which controlled the road to Aleppo. At this moment, the victory was already certain. With an impressive air support and the help of Russian special forces, the second part of the battle of Aleppo began until December 13, when rebels decided to capitulate.

2017: Putin, game master

The winner of this war is obviously Vladimir Putin. The Russian president had totally free hands to act in Syria. If the gain of the city is in favor of Bachar Al-Assad, the Russian military has been in charge of the operations since the beginning.

First of all, the intervention of Russian special forces demonstrates the serious engagement of the Russian army. Of course planes need to be guided but according to some Syrian soldiers many Spetsnaz (elite Russian troops) have been committed to sniping missions.

Putin receiving al-Assad
Putin receiving al-Assad

The second point that shows the Russian predominance in this conflict is the military strategy: the complete destruction of a city that permits to stifle the rebellion. Like in Chechenya fifteen years ago, Putin applicates the principle of systematical destruction and despite destructions and human casualties. We must recognize that method works.

On the diplomatic side, since 2015, Russia has taken a vacant place left by the United States and the European countries. Three years ago, Washington had the opportunity to change the war but because Barak Obama finally decided the US would not intervene, he gave the entire control of the Syrian war up to Putin. The American elections have permitted to Putin to act freely before the investiture of the new President Trump. Day by day, the Russian military victories and the alliance with some Iranian, Lebanese and Afghan militias reinforced Putin.

Furthermore, this intervention has permitted to reinforce the position of Russia on the geostrategic scale. In fact, this is the first time since Afghanistan, in the 1970’s, at the end of the USSR era, that the Russian army intervene alone, outside its rational borders of intervention, the « near abroad ». Russia has proved his army can engage a massive firepower in order to eradicate « terrorism ».  For Moscow, the securement of Syria is of vital importance to avoid the setting-up of possible new terrorist bases which could threaten Caucasus and to protect the only bases in the Mediterranean Sea.

The fall of Western diplomacy

In 2013, the red line had been crossed by the Syrian regime according to Barack Obama but no intervention followed his warning. Despite France’s Francois Hollande appeal to western strikes to help the so-called « democratic Syrian forces », the European Union has kept an annoying silence – an evidence of this institution’s incapacity to intervene without the American leadership.

            Why do we face this situation ?

Since the apparition of the so-called Islamic State, the international coalition tried to destroy the terrorist organization. Since 2014, despite some local victories, the Islamic state has not been destroyed. But Russia has made the demonstration that it could rescue a quite-defeated regime within one year, engaging quite almost special forces and aerial forces.

Now the situation has changed. The Syrian army is motivated and shows self-confidence; Bachar Al-Assad is now, more than ever, in a favorable position.So on the military point of view, the international American-led huge coalition fails to destroy an enemy when Russian succeeded. Another matter is the problem of comprehension of Syria and the nature of its regime.

In 2011, the « Arab spring » spread across North Africa and the Middle East. But in Syria, the first demonstrators did not ask for Bachar Al-Assad to quit, but claimed for better social and economic standards. But for western diplomacy, Bachar’s time was over. – yet Mr Chevallier, French ambassador in Syria warned the ministry of Foreign Affairs that the population could support Al-Assad.

The real grave of western countries has been achieved in 2013. Barack Obama said he will intervene only if chemical weapons were used. He didn’t. And the European Union decided not to intervene either. Probably in order to avoid the Libyan situation and huge military losses.

All this points explain clearly that United States will not intervene before January 2017 – if they do. The new elected president, Mr Trump –apparently wants to calm the things down with Moscow, according to his statements.

European countries are out, too.

So, Russia is quiet for a month – at least.

War crimes

With the battle of Aleppo, some western politicians now pointed war crimes committed by Russian and Syrian forces. Here a sense of objectivity is needed to adopt a global focus on the situation:

First of all, we need to understand Syria is facing a war, that means death and casualties. In each war, civilians are the first victims. Each side knows about atrocities. Of course, the international law has been violated but who is responsible? The opposite would have probably happen if the rebels won the battle.

Concerning Russian strikes, it will be hypocritical to sentence Russia when the United States and its allies did the same thing since 1945 through different conflicts. If we take a look on the more recent war scenes in Irak or Afghanistan, we can note many violations of the international law but no one has been involved in a judicial process facing an international court.

Today western countries try to be engage in « zero casualties war » and prefer « chirurgical » airstrikes. But the reality is different, actually the coalition does not account for civilian casualties but UN and other ONG talking, several times, about collateral damages. Every war brings deaths and destructions.

The war against « terrorism » is not over and countries should be ready to face such situations.

Corentin Curtenelle


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