Putin targets East Aleppo rebels; Did Trump’s Election doom them?

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some 2,000 rebel fighters, most of them Muslim fundamentalists, others remnants of the Free Syrian Army, are trying to break the Syrian regime’s blockade of East Aleppo. But they may soon face cruise missiles launched at them from Russian submarines in the Mediterranean, along with other air strikes coming off a Russian aircraft carrier battle group that has reached the Syrian port of Tartous.

Aleppo is divided into two cities. The Western neighborhoods may have as many as 600k to 1 million inhabitants. They are better off than those in the east and are under Syrian government control. From all accounts they are able to live relatively normal lives, though under a one-party state at war. East Aleppo was long more slummy than the west, and as a set of districts with a lot of have-nots it is not surprising that it rebelled in 2011 and then became a rebel stronghold.

But that stronghold is now under a pretty effective siege, which the rebels outside the city have been trying to break.

Gazeta.ru, via BBC Monitoring, confirms that:

“A Russian Navy carrier group headed by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky are preparing to conduct a strike in the very near future against insurgents in the province of Aleppo, a source in Russia’s Ministry of Defence confirmed to Gazeta.ru. An attack using Kalibr cruise missiles and carrier aviation will be conducted on insurgents at the approaches to the city, but not against residential areas, the source affirmed.”

The Russians are announcing that they (unlike the regime of Bashar al-Assad) will avoid bombing non-combatants in the midst of the densely packed eastern city.

But Gazeta.ru notes that the Russian surface ships now assembled in the Mediterranean do not have the Kalibr cruse missile in their arsenal. There are reports of 3 Russian, nuclear-powered submarines in the same part of the sea, who do indeed have this capability. Cruise missile strikes is one of the more effective weapons against the militias, according to Russian sources.

Russian fighter jets taking off from the aircraft carrier will soon also hit rebel positions around East Aleppo.

The Obama administration has slammed the Russian air help given to the al-Assad regime and its Shiite militia allies fighting rebeles at East Aleppo. But with Obama a lame duck and Trump a buddy of Putin, Russia and Syria may feel they have a free hand to defeat the rebels complete in east Aleppo.

In one of his campaign debates a year ago, Trump said “Aleppo basically has fallen.” It wasn’t true then, about the east of the city; it might be true soon.


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21 Responses

  1. For at least the past week the Russians and the Syrian government have had a cessation of hostilities in East Aleppo to allow the terrorists free passage to leave the area and even do so with their arms etc. The terrorists have instead chosen to stay and fight and hold the population there as hostages using them as a human shield. Its a bit of a stretch to link the Trump win for the presidency with anything going on In Syria. Had Trump lost the position would be exactly the same. Its two weeks or more that the Russian flotilla sailed through the English channel, when Clinton was expected to win the election. It will be interesting to see if Trump continues to spend millions of American tax payers dollars propping up the fantasy free Syrian army (terrorists by any other name) when he takes office.

    • That is because Obama was elected in a free and fair election, while Assad continues the 46-year reign of authoritarian, one-man rule begun by his father, Havez, in 1970.

      • You’re wrong: Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria, and the USA has NO right to interfere in his country. The USA Peace Council went there in August and found 90% support Assad and do NOT want head-choppers taking over the country. Go watch their presentation to the UN, get a clue dude you watch too much corporate “news” in USA.

  2. I’m not sure I understand in what way would the situation be different had Clinton not failed to mobilize more voters?

    Didn’t diplomatic negotiations cum coordination of military strategy with Russia disintegrate after the recent mass-killing of Syrian government troops by the U.S. airforce?

    After that, what incentives did they have to offer the Russian state to rein in its airforce, no matter the face of the next administration?

    Tensions with Russia would likely have increased had they clique around Clinton came into office, further closing the window for diplomacy let alone coordination. This may still happen with Trump’s administration, one of the many wild-cards to be unveiled.

    And if not incentives, what types of coercion are left? Apart from direct military confrontation against a country that can actually defend itself or at the very least take down the whole planet with them? Compared to that, surely negotiations are a good thing? This may actually have been the one point where anti-war activists were preferring even Trump to Clinton – which may have cost her dearly in turnout.

    Also, why would the Obama administration go out on a limb for rebel-held Aleppo, given that they are ostensibly fighting a war against some of the al Qaida linked groups (when they’re not directly or indirectly aiding them) which are present there.

    If civilian “collateral damage” were such a problem, then why are we doing the same thing to Mosul in alliance with the Iraqi army plus militias that the Russian airforce is doing in Aleppo in alliance with the Syrian state plus militias?

  3. Russia must surely have been planning this latest drive against the rebels since well before the passage of the Russian armada through the English channel on October 21. The rebels have to be cleared from Aleppo and elsewhere, the more so now since only few civilians were able to take advantage of the ceasefire and the situation is obviously deteriorating. It’s a god awful mess but:

    We must always keep firmly in mind that the conflict in Syria was instigated in the first place by the US and other foreign powers for the objective of regime change against the Assad government – a long-time ally of Russia and Iran. Recall that former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed in 2013 that the foreign conspiracy for regime change in Syria was hatched at least two years before the violence erupted in March 2011….

    …I met with top British officials, who confessed to me, that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister of Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I am French, that does not interest me”.

    link to nsnbc.me

    Think of a burning museum, who is to blame, the fire fighters whose efforts are destroying priceless treasures or the group that started the conflagration.

    Nations everywhere need to be allowed to develop towards shared responsibility (democracy, if you like) at their own speeds, not all are at the same point. If a nation stumbles and enters a totally egregious state then there exist global institutions set up to readjust the balance. And, if they are deemed not to have sufficient authority, the answer is simple – give them more. We really cannot continue down this path of endless war; Obama inherited two wars and is bequeathing his successor seven. And he has a Nobel Peace prize!

    • I thinks its more nuanced. Clearly our regime-change wet dream wouldn’t have had any real effect unless a lot of people were already ready to rebel. We made it worse/ more likely but
      it required serious mistakes on the Assad side for our efforts to gain any traction.

      But it is well past due for us to quit funding the rebels. We are only adding fuel to the fire. Once you know which side is going to win, funding the losers only prolongs the suffering.

  4. Putin played this one beautifully. He helped manipulate (gullible) US public opinion with the selective email hacks and got his guy, the “Manchurian Candidate” into the White House. Obama can’t – and won’t – do anything major to intervene militarily in Syria and so Russia now has the equivalent of a carte blanche to blow up as many Syrians as they want.

    Once he takes office, Trump will quickly reach an understanding with Putin and that will be that. And of course, Assad will get to continue the family business – Murder Incorporated – with hoomus and falafel on the side – and we won’t be able to do anything about it as he represses anything even remotely resembling legit democratic dissent.

    On the one hand, you do have to admire Putin’s ability to deploy his limited military and media assets for maximum effect. But there’s no joy in Mudville. In fact, only a fool or a tool can be overjoyed at the geopolitical success of an authoritarian, if not reactionary regime.

  5. Sad to see the “terrorist” label applied so freely by commenters far away and ignorant of the myriad reasons and relationships why Syrian individuals act as they do. Evidence suggests the terrorist definition could be applied to all involved parties to date including state players. Yet that application does not equally describe the situation of all families. From afar Syria is much like Iraq dissolved with many many individuals simply and desperately acting as best they know to survive.

  6. As per today’s Huffington Post, the Russian foreign minister admitted that the Putin regime had contacts with people in the Trump campaign. It is pretty clear that Russia will have a free hand while Trump is President. Ukraine may have to cede some of its eastern territory now and Russia may now have a permanent presence in the Mediterranean via the Syrian port at Tartous.

      • You are correct Chris. Russia has had a naval base at Tartus since 1971 via an agreement with Hafez Assad. In fact, Russia has been the predominent influenece in syria for decades.

  7. Shouldn’t the title read: “Assad & Putin target al Qaeda In East Aleppo. Did Trump’s Election doom them?” One can only hope….

    • I think they were already doomed, either way. We just don’t seem to have either the capability nor the will to be decisive in Syria.

  8. I think it likely that the Russians are simply working on their own schedule. Had Hillary been elected, it would have made sense to “pour it on” and eliminate the so-called rebels before she actually would have taken office in January, presenting her with a fait accompli in Aleppo.

    But since she lost the election this “deadline” goes out the window. Since as noted above, the Russians have been giving the jihadis every opportunity to leave. Since they haven’t, this reveals them to be die-hards. At some point the window of opportunity to escape closes. The Russians have likely decided that this point has come, and that it’s time to wipe the terrorists out, and bring the battle at Aleppo to a close.

    Antoinetta III

  9. If Russia wanted more aircraft over Allepo it would have sent more land based aircraft. SU-30s, TU-22s.

    Russia has only one aircraft carrier and it doesn’t have catapults. It has a ski jump ramp. You can launch SU-33s but they aren’t good for anything other than air cover.

    Putin has demonstrated he can strike targets from the Caspian Sea. This is nothing more than a freedom of navigation exercise. This is a fundamental concept in the global order and is cherished by the US Navy in the South China Sea.

  10. Why is it “Syrian Regime” in one place and “Syrian government” in other place? How does one determine which designation is appropriate?

  11. Those motley “rebels” were dammed from the get go. If not at the hands of Assad and his allies, then at hands of each other and their backers.
    Did Clinton’s support for the “rebels” doomed her campaign?

  12. It has been reported that the day after Trump won, Obama ordered his military to start bombing al-Qaeda. Maybe Obama doesn’t want to go down in history as the president who coďdled al-Qaeda?

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