Russian Pundit: Fall of East Aleppo a Geopolitical Turning Point toward Multi-polar World

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

By Friday evening outside observers like Rami Abdelrahman of the Syria Observatory in the UK were saying that even more of the East Aleppo pocket had fallen to the Syrian Arab Army, Hizbullah and Iraqi militias and that the government forces had consolidated their control over districts taken midweek. About half of the eastern city has now been lost to the rebel forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled, some to regime-held West Aleppo and others into Kurdish-held territory.

At the same time, according to the Saudi-owned, London-based pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East], secret talks between rebel leaders and Russia in Ankara collapsed on Friday over Russia’s demand that several hundred fighters belonging to the Levantine Conquest Front, formerly the Nusra Front, leave Aleppo before any cessation of hostilities could be agreed to. The US and Russia list the LCF/ Nusra as a terrorist organization; its leader is sworn to allegiance to core al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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The some 3,000? remaining rebel fighters of the East Aleppo pocket include a diverse set of groups. Some are defenders of a neighborhood and by all accounts not very ideological. Most probably believe in some form of political Islam and some are Muslim Brotherhood. Russia maintains, however, that the Salafi Jihadi LCF is the de facto leader of all the militias in East Aleppo and therefore tars them all with the brush of al-Qaeda and terrorism. For their part, the rebel leaders are unwilling to let go of al-Qaeda because its ranks contain the best fighters and they fear the Russians are attempting to divide and rule them. What guarantee, they ask, do they have that if LCF fighters exited, the Russians would keep their word and conclude a cessation of hostilities?

The Syrian rebels’ unlovely attachment to the al-Qaeda group has been one of the reasons for their downfall, since it was difficult for Western powers to back them or to fend off Russian objections that their efforts were spearheaded by Bin Laden, and later al-Zawahiri.

Russian and regime airstrikes and artillery, and return fire by the rebels, have allegedly killed about 300 civilians since the current campaign began two weeks ago. Inasmuch as some of the airstrikes appear to have been indiscriminate, those would be war crimes. The rebels are accused of having shot civilians attempting to flee their control.

In a recent panel discussion on a foreign affairs television show in Moscow, “Evening with Vladimir Solovyev,” the Russian analysts were virtually licking their lips over the prospect of a decisive win in East Aleppo. The discussion was translated by BBC Monitoring:

One guest, the president of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, Leonid Ivashov, said that the taking of East Aleppo was not purely a “tactical success”, but rather is a “matter of geopolitics” as well. He said that the The Russia-led coalition in Syria is radically altering the world, adding that: “a new multipolar, fairer and safer, world is coming into being there.”

Veniamin Popov, director of the Centre for Alliance of Civilisations, said he had hopes that East Aleppo would be taken quickly. At that point, he observed, the Middle East will be “seriously changed” and a “trend in geopolitics” would begin that recognizes that “it is necessary to reckon with Russia.”

Ivan Konovalov, head of military policy and economics at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said that a victory in Aleppo would “greatly change Russia’s influence in the region.”

That is, these Russian analysts see the imminent fall of the East Aleppo pocket as not only a significant turning point in the Syrian Civil War but as the announcement that Moscow is back. The Russian Federation is a superpower in world affairs, they are implying, just as the old Soviet Union had been.

Russia will henceforth be seen as a force that must be reckoned with, they are saying.

Ivashov argues that the emergence of Russia as a great power is good for the Middle East. Now the dynamics of the region will differ from country to country, depending on the diplomatic and other aid each receives, and from which power. But the new Middle East aborning in the ruins of East Aleppo will be multipolar. The era of the US as sole superpower is over. And on top of that, this multipolar world will be more just and more fair. (Source: Rossiya 1 TV in Russian 1410 gmt 30 Nov 16, BBC Monitoring).

Not sure if the news of the 300 civilian deaths has reached them.


Related video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Intense fighting in Aleppo as regime troops cut the rebels’ northern sector”

20 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    So far I haven’t seen any discussion of Russian Air Cover for Lebanon which is historically part of Syria.

    It will be good to see the US depart the European neighbourhood as it will curb Israeli meddling and kill off the Yinon plan to establish Greater Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile.

    The entry of the Egyptians into the Syrian melee is of great interest.

    What we really need to see is an SCO version of the Marshall Plan to rebuild the Middle East

  2. I seem to detect a hint of ‘sour grapes’ in this piece of yours, professor. Had the West prevailed in their endeavour to oust Assad I think they would have been ‘crowing in much the same way. I recall that when the West attacked Libya, Cameron and William Hague, our then not very bright foreign secretary, rushed off to Libya when they heard that the West backed terrorists had won. They went there full of undisguised glee, wreathed in smiles on a march of triumph and glory to shake hands with the terrorists who had overthrown Gadaffi. Even worse, your own secretary of state, Hillary Clinton positively exuded joy and satisfaction at the appalling murder of Gadaffi and she too was clapping her hands and laughing with undisguised pleasure. Her immortal words will be for ever remembered which were: “We came, we saw, and he died” Gloating the Russians might be, but they’ve got nothing our lot who are masters when it comes to smugness and self gratification.

    • So you are contending that the entire Libyan rebellion was the work of “terrorists”? No one else? Not one single Libyan was pissed off with the way Gaddafi was running the country? Everyone fighting Gaddafi was al-Qaeda?

      Or are you just doing what Washington has always done and you are calling everyone opposed to your personal favorite dictators a terrorist?

      We’ll get back to you when our minorities rise up against Trump.

  3. I think there is indeed a switch towards multi-polarity on the horizon and the Russian analysts may be congratulated for seeing it in so positive a light. Syria looks much like a familiar conflict area but here there are significantly different objectives in that while the US still aims at a globe under its sole influence others look to global influence shared between equals. Viewed that way it becomes more understandable why Syria, where this is being played out, should have attracted so many and various participants. It certainly didn’t start in Syria, arguably it has been evolving since glasnost but was more or less unnoticed while Russia recovered from its communist excursion. In any event it is a process, and future historians may see it as the most important development of our age. Oddly, the much maligned Trump appears to understand it, viscerally if not intellectually. Notwithstanding his fondness for superannuated rottweilers, he does appear to propose abandoning regime change and overt interference abroad, while cooperating with others in the resolution of supra-national problems, and heaven help us there are enough of those.

  4. I wonder if this might be the end of the “military can solve all problems” foreign policy. In the future we may face third world countries that cannot be intimidated with threats of force since they may have Russian (or Chinese) backing. We will have to use diplomacy again. This may not be a bad thing; it will restrain the warheads in Washington.

  5. Love your articles and respect your opinions but i think the idea that Russia has reawaken as a counter balance to the US is far fetched. I think the Russians did what the US allowed them to do in Syria. The US never intended on losing Syria albeit it was willing to change the figure at the top but the structure of the middle East would have to remain the same. This is why the US never really gave any support to the rebels because they couldn’t guarantee whoever takes the reigns of power will maintain the existing structure. It couldn’t help Assad directly because that would just look bad so it allowed the Russians and Iranians to do their bidding as long as the structure of the Middle East remains. So the Russians created an image that they are back on the world stage as a superpower, but are they?

  6. The world was multipolar before. Is this 1814 or 1914?

    I don’t see stable spheres of influence here quite yet. The jihadi movement has no fear of the impossible, that just means more martyrs. So the Russians will not enjoy their naval base in peace. This is a cold war between Russia and Saudi Arabia where both sides are chained to loose cannons. It’s good for Hezbollah because it just demands that its people get treated as the plurality of Lebanese, not the conversion of anybody. But ISIS isn’t really out of business, because it serves as the useful excuse for everyone else to bomb their actual enemies.

    We’re not going to enjoy a multipolar world of authoritarian strongmen dreaming of past “greatness”. I warned everyone of that. We should pray every night for the next 20 years that the nukes stay in their silos long enough for China to just foreclose on everyone and take over the world. And even that is a horrible outcome for human liberty.

  7. It’s just Syria. Syria was an ally of the Soviet Union when the USSR was powerful and the USSR still played a secondary role in the region. Syria has never been important on the world or even regional stage.. It has been a secondary theater and what importance it has had is to support Hezbollah, which is more an irritant than a powerful force, and to form a nebulous axis with Iran, providing them with a pipeline for sending arms to Hezbollah. Even with a victory, Syria will be prostrate for at least a decade because of all the destruction. Let the Russians crow all they want. Once the world moves on to alternative fuels, the Middle East won’t be very important anyway. Of course, Trump could decide to get the US more heavily involved in the region, screw everything up and who knows what happens then. He is a disaster waiting to happen.

    • The Middle East – Syria and Turkey in particular – is the cradle of ‘civilization’ with perhaps the greatest intensity of cultural history on the planet – much of it contained in still-unexcavated antiquities. It’s world-historical importance is beyond question. (North America, by contrast, is a slab of fairly artifact-free post-glacial sediment that hosted an oil-based culture for a century or two before it collapsed under its own stupidity.)

  8. Wishful thinking by our Russian friends.

    If Assad remains in power in Syria, that hardly changes the geo-political axis in any way. And what will he inherit? A nation in ruins, hundreds of thousands dead and an insurgency that likely will continue, albeit more sporadically.

    Meanwhile, Russia remains saddled with a relatively small and highly corrupt economic and financial system that still depends on the vagaries of crude oil prices. It’s political system is a joke and the regime espouses reactionary authoritarianism.

    Yes, they will continue to be a pain in the neck. But their delusions of grandeur, notwithstanding, the Russians are in no position to equal either the US or China.

  9. The big question here does not concern Assad’s ability to kill off rebels and the neighborhoods that support them over the next few months.

    The big question here is about Russia’s emerging capabilities in “soft” or “non-traditional” warfare, aimed directly at the USA and Western Europe, which in a pessimistic view are already triumphant with Trump’s election. Helping promote antagonistic right-wing cliques, helping provide lies and other talking points to right-wing media, and generally spreading, among all sectors of the Western populations, the idea that “there are no more facts,” that all points of discussion can be refuted by dedicated liars — thus generally contributing to our inability to unite (more or less) behind any foreign policy, let along one which vigorously opposes these Russian efforts.

    Will we ever know what degree of cooperation/coordination was going on between the seediest elements of the Trump camp, or independent alt-right groups supporting him, and the Russian soft-war machine?

    My longform historical website is nothing like Juan’s but I have been getitng a lot of traffic in 2016. And since the Ukraine has been one of my biggest sources of visitors, and since Russians were also hitting me over 2000 times a day for a month or so in the spring, I suspect I may be on the radar of Russian web-teams. The evidence that I found on my site, from Google Analytics, of Russian/Trump web propaganda is quite curious.

    It all happened in the 2 weeks after the election, so very weird, however, Google found something new in human history — a new language !! Even weirder, Google identified this new language as
    “ You are invited! Enter only with this ticket URL. Copy it! Vote for Trump!”

    The 86 people using this new language used very unusual patterns of activity on my site. So it was easy to correlate these visits with 85 visits coming from Russia (2/3 St. Pete, then Samara Oblast, and then from all over). They also correlated with 76 visits coming to my site by referral from other sites. I’ll spell out these site names to avoid triggering anything, they were site names such as ” abc dot zyx ,” or ” buketeg dot xyz, or (all one word) the next wb dot com ,” or most curiously ” addon dot mozilla dot org .”

    I’m an old-fashioned library historian and not at all a web guru, I have no idea what this all means or how to research it further. However, if our national security agencies are reading this, please check it out. And if any of you have press or academic credentials, and a phone number to get around the walls that Google and Mozilla put up to prevent us ordinary citizens from communicating with them, can you please be questioning Google about new Trump-affiliated languages, can you please be questioning Mozilla about addon’s controlled by Russian intelligence ?

    So yes, if Russia has not yet “won the war” they have certainly won the first battle. US influence in the world, and the US’s ability to be a “sole superpower” is grave;ly wounded.

    And with Trump making phone calls offering praise to foreign dictators and democracy-destroyers like Duterte (and is he also proposing hotel projects in these calls ???) following suggestions whispered in his ear by the craziest members of his dark and dangerous entourage, world history is likely to get a lot worse before it gets more hopeful.

    • You make some good points and I think what you have found is very interesting. I hope this is something that is not only investigated fully, but also publicized widely. This could be a real threat to democracy. During the campaign on leftist websites I kept running into a lot of posts by Bernie supporters attacking Hillary and making a lot of specious claims. Some were so over the top and became so common, I finally deduced that they were more likely from conservative trolls trying to sow dissension in Democratic ranks. Now, however, it may be that a lot of these posts came from Russia and other affiliated locations. I think it was Buzzfeed that did an analysis of social media and found that in the last week of the campaign fake news stories got more readers and shares than real news. We know that some fake news has been created by individuals who rely on and prey on the gullibility of Trump supporters to make money. In articles in the Washington Post and the LA Times, they said that they could make from $10,000 to $40,000 a month from advertisers by getting a lot of hits on their fake news. Given the large volume of fake news at the end of the campaign, it may very well be that a lot of this was also generated by Russians seeking to gain support for Trump. As one of the American fakers said, Trump supporters will believe anything because they never fact check. That is why the entrepreneurial types play to the right wingers; they are easier to fool than liberals, according to the articles. Thus, Russian fakers would be able to have a lot of success in supporting Trump in that way.

  10. Syria might have seemed just as an unsolvable calculus problem as you say it is now… back in the post Ottoman period and yet Syria held together and even thrived afterwards. The new Syria will be different for a start the minorities including the Kurds are obviously in a different position now. But its been the AQ and ISIL jihadist element which cannot be bargained with and they have to go. Civilians lives will surely improve once Aleppo is at peace again.
    By the way Professor Cole was the Allied bombing of Germany and Japan or the US in Vietnam a war crime? It was certainly pretty indiscriminate in the effect. Or have the rules changed since?

    • Yes, Richard, international law changed substantially at the end of WW II. We have the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its subsequent treaty instruments, the 2002 Statute of Rome, etc. etc.

      By any measure both Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aeronautical Force are in severe and obvious violation of the laws of war, which forbid indiscriminate fire in non-combatant zones. There is a difference between taking a clean shot at an enemy combatant and killing dozens of children to get at that combatant. Some shots should not be taken because they clearly would endanger large numbers of non-combatants.

    • I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but I have had course work in international law and have read extensively on WW II. I also checked the Wikipedia article on War Crimes, which pretty much confirmed what I had thought. Deliberately targeting civilians was a war crime as far back as the 1898 Geneva convention. In Europe the British engaged in what they called area bombing, which was to just drop bombs on a German city pretty indiscriminately. That was a war crime. The US attempted precision bombing, aiming at specific military targets. Although the precision turned out to be illusory, the US thought the Norton bombsight was capable of precision bombing and that was the intent of the US bombing campaign. As a result, the US took many more casualties among its bomber fleet than the British since the US bombed during the day and the British at night. Thus, the US bombing campaign in Europe was not a war crime. In the War in the Pacific, the bombing of Japan was generally speaking a war crime, especially the fire bombing of Tokyo and other indiscriminate bombing of Japanese cities. The intent was more to terrorize the local population than destroy military targets.

  11. The fall of East Aleppo shows the Syrian government will not be overthrown in the near future. Should the west now try to extract a deal from the regime on reconciliation or continue to fund an unsuccessful and bloody uprising?
    Perhaps the answer has less to do with what is right for the Syrian people and more to do with Western loss of face and preventing a perceived Russian victory.

  12. Yes, no doubt the rise of Putin’s murderous regime will be good for the Middle East and the peace of the world at large.

  13. This bit about fake news is quite disturbing. As a journalist, it disgusts me to see our vaunted American media trolling itself and blaming it on “The Russians.” I mean, guys, come on, the fakest news in town is that which has come directly from the outlets that claim the mantle of “professional journalism” i.e. Yellow cake, barrel bombs, moderate rebels, curveball… and so on. If we had a real fair and balanced fourth pillar, the American populace wouldn’t have needed to turn to alt sites in search of valid analysis that actually questions power without fear of loss of sponsorship and/or access. The corporate media/Washington propaganda juggernaut has now created their stalking horse to compensate for what can only be called a proper reaming over the last election cycle. T’was a long time coming.

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