Changing loyalties in Aleppo clouding the forecast

Maria Dubovikova

IN two weeks, 300 civilians perished in Mosul. In one month, battles in Aleppo have claimed more than 600 lives. But evaluations and coverage are still unbalanced. Apparently not all lives matter and not all conflicts matter. It all depends on whose interests the conflicts serve. And meanwhile, the liberation of Mosul is turning out to mean yet more bloodshed while the world’s eyes remain on Aleppo.
At the same time, forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, thanks to significant ground support provided by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia’s air force, have already taken under control of about 60 percent of the territory that was occupied by the Jabhat al-Nusra group and opposition groups. According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, in the recent weeks 4,000 people have managed to arrive safely in some government-held areas of Aleppo.
Western media assumes that Russia seeks the full withdrawal of the rebels from Eastern Aleppo, while Russia discusses the withdrawal of the al-Nusra Front with the US. A few days ago, the UN special envoy to Syria once again called on Jabhat al-Nusra to leave Eastern Aleppo. The response came not from al-Nusra, but from rebel commanders declaring that Aleppo fighters will not surrender the eastern part of the city. Observers are now questioning whether any moderate rebels are left in the city at all, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying that most of the rebel groups in Eastern Aleppo are now under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra.
The retreat of all radicals from Aleppo is a must. With their retreat, the status quo can be easily maintained, creating momentum for political figures to listen and speak to each other
According to a recent leak by the Financial Times, Syrian rebels conducted secret talks with Russia and Turkey. What is remarkable about these talks is that the US was completely shut out, as is Damascus. Another significant feature of the ongoing talks is that it is the first time such a large number of opposition groups have taken part in negotiations. Intensified commotion
This intensified commotion over Aleppo is quiet understandable and clear as long as the rebels are losing the last stronghold and thus misbalancing situation both on the ground and at the negotiation table. It is naive to expect anyone to care about civilians in a purely geopolitical game where people are just pawns on a chessboard. Russia is successfully using the current power vacuum to its advantage as the old administration in Washington is leaving and the new one is yet to take office. Russia demonstrates the will to negotiate and find new solutions and compromises, continuing talks with the leaving team of the State Department, but feels free to lead its own game.
But no matter what the game is and who leads it, the end goal is unanimous – Assad should step down. For all the puppet-masters of the conflict, the key to the crisis’ solution lies in the fate of Aleppo.
But the only thing that is missing in the general understanding of the situation is the fact that when al-Nusra claims to retreat from Aleppo, the rebels answer negatively. If the rebels have indeed joined forces with the al-Nusra Front, who can the situation be handled? Has the moderate opposition lost its moderate armed militias who have drifted toward extremism and terrorism? Maybe it is high time to view the situation from a purely political aspect and focus on the political process of transition? There is a chance to divide the belligerent sides into layers themselves, making politicians decide the political fate of the country without any linkage to the situation on the ground. For such a split, the retreat of all radicals from Aleppo is a must. With their retreat, the status quo can be easily maintained, creating momentum for political figures to listen and speak to each other One must remember that both the armed forces and the opposition are Syrians, dreaming only about peace in their homeland.

—Courtesy: AA
[Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme]

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