Russia and Iran are on a roll in Syria.
Just two months ago, it appeared as though Moscow was indeed set to get bogged down in the conflict as the Russian Defense Ministry’s daily airstrike video dump seemed to be at odds with a lack of concrete results on the ground.
Then, suddenly, Hezbollah had surrounded Aleppo. To be sure, the offensive was telegraphed months in advance (we previewed the assault in October). But the public generally failed to put the pieces together when it came to adding up reports of incremental advances by Assad-allied forces in northwestern Syria. As it turns out, months of hard fought gains proved sustainable and now, the rebels find themselves trapped in Aleppo, where they’ll stage a last stand that’s virtually sure to fail thanks in no small part to Russia’s scorched earth airstrikes and Hezbollah’s expertise in waging asymmetric, urban warfare.
Moscow has taken criticism from the Western media for continuing to strike rebel positions on the heels of a tenuous agreement to implement a “cessation of hostilities.” From the outset, Russia made it clear that the deal didn’t include “the terrorists” and since everyone fighting Assad is a “terrorist” in Russia’s eyes, the bombing runs have continued unabated.
Moscow is also coordinating airstrikes with the Kurds and because Putin, unlike Obama, isn’t obliged to pander to Ankara, the YPG have managed to advance quickly west of the Euphrates and are now set to close the Azaz corridor, the last supply line from Turkey to the rebels in Aleppo. Turkey has responded by shelling YPG positions and by demanding the US recognize the group as a “terrorist” element. In short, it’s just a matter of time before the Turks send in the ground troops. Without an intervention by Ankara and Riyadh, the rebellion will fail and the YPG will effectively establish a proto-state on Turkey’s southern border.
It’s against that backdrop that we bring you the following map which documents Russia’s air campaign as it unfolded in February. There’s also some additional color from ISW, whose assessment is largely accurate if colored by a kind of Russophobic bias.
Russia also has ratcheted up its military power in Syria since the agreement, with the deployment of the advanced Tu-214R intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to the Bassel al-Assad International Airport on February 15. The Tu-214R will likely work in coordination with the new Russian Su-35S warplanes to conduct quick and accurate precision strikes. Its deployment is another indication that Russia and the regime continue to pursue a military solution to the conflict in Syria.
Russian-enabled Kurdish advances have applied additional pressure against opposition forces already strained by recent regime advances northwest of Aleppo City. Kurdish forces cleared over 10 kilometers of opposition-held terrain north of the city, seizing the town of Tel Rifaat, the Menagh Airbase, and at least five other villages from the armed opposition from February 6 - 16 with the assistance of Russian airstrikes. Given recent gains, Kurdish forces are positioned to seize the opposition stronghold of Mare’a located along the frontline with ISIS. Kurdish forces are also positioned to seize the town of Azaz located 10 kilometers south of Turkish border. Russian air support for Kurdish forces further escalates tensions with Turkey, which has responded to recent Kurdish gains by shelling recently seized villages adjacent to Azaz.