The terrible siege of East Aleppo may be nearing an end. Syrian government forces backed by Iranian militias, Hezbollah and the Kurdish YPG are retaking areas in East Aleppo that have been held by various jihadi groups. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting and gone to government- or Kurdish-held areas of Aleppo. Up to 250,000 people (figures vary) are still caught in the warzone. The toll of death and destruction in Syria is staggering. Maybe 400,000 are dead, millions are displaced within Syria, and an estimated five million Syrians are displaced in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
What is the endgame? Assad plans to reconquer East Aleppo. Then anti-government forces that are willing to make deals with the government will be allowed to go to other areas controlled by Islamist groups — a similar deal to those carried out in areas around Damascus and Homs. Eventually this will result in a de facto partitioned Syrian state in which the government will control the main cities and a few other key areas.
The latest assault follows a period of relative calm during which the Syrian government and Russia suspended airstrikes and established ‘humanitarian corridors’ in order to allow civilians to leave East Aleppo. Few did. The Syrian government said this was because the Islamist groups holding East Aleppo would not allow them to go. UN special envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura offered personally to escort Al-Nusra fighters out of East Aleppo in order to save the city from further destruction. Of course, to leave East Aleppo would be to surrender this key position; Al-Nusra and other groups refused to go.
There is a very specific narrative about the Syrian War in the Western mainstream media: America and European allies have stood by and let Syria burn, giving evil genius Putin a free hand to rearrange the Middle East. Putin is a busy man for sure: as well as overthrowing Hillary Clinton, meddling in the upcoming German and French elections, and masterminding Brexit, he has apparently been sponsoring the Syrian War since 2011, too. He’s clearly a global manipulator on a scale history has rarely seen.
This narrative, of course, doesn’t stand up. To begin with, Russian intervention in Syria began in September 2015, when the Syrian government formally requested military help, not in 2011, when the war started. In 2015, the Syrian government was about to lose power to the coalition of Islamist groups sweeping the state, and so Russia intervened with clearly stated objectives: to bolster the government and prevent a rerun of Iraq.