Significance: Russia’s immediate objective in Syria, namely to shore up the Assad government’s position and save it from military defeat at the hands of the Sunni rebels, has largely been achieved.
Implications: This has set the conditions for localised ceasefires, but meaningful concessions in the Vienna talks remain unlikely, leaving little scope for larger and more stable agreements.
Outlook: Likely government successes against the Islamic State in al-Bab would further strengthen the incentive for Western governments to support a political solution that retains the existing power structures, which are amenable to Russia.
The Syrian government expanded its territory by 1.3% with Russian military support between 29 September 2015 and 11 January 2016, according to the latest IHS Conflict Monitor estimate. These gains represent a turnaround in the government’s position, considering it lost 18% of its territory in the first eight months of 2015, and was edging towards the loss of Aleppo and intensified attacks against the Alawite heartland in Latakia. Russia’s immediate objective in Syria, namely to shore up the Assad government’s position and save it from military defeat at the hands of the Sunni rebels, has largely been achieved. Momentum has shifted back in favour of government forces, which are stabilizing front lines in areas that are core to the government’s survival, and making slow but steady progress as coordination between the Russian Air Force, Hizbullah and the Syrian Army appears to be improving.
All of the government’s net gains between 29 September 2015 and 11 January 2016 were achieved against Sunni rebels (590 km2 gained vs 205 km2 lost), whereas the government suffered an overall net loss of 5 km2 to the Islamic State (205 km2 gained vs 210 km2 lost).
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