With the help of airstrikes by Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's regime could soon take Aleppo. Capturing one of Syria's largest cities would be a turning point in the civil war, Middle East expert André Bank says.
DW: What would it mean if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops were to capture Aleppo?
Andre Bank: It would be a turning point in the Syrian civil war. For the first time since 2012, Assad's troops would be in control of an area that reaches from the capital, Damascus, to the central Syrian city of Homs and the northwest all the way to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. The regime would once again control a very big and populous region in Syria. But it wouldn't yet spell the end of the civil war.
The opposition is hoping for military support from Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. How likely is that that we'll see Arab forces on the ground?
I still think that's highly unlikely. Saudi Arabia would only be able to act within a US-led alliance. And, despite the disastrous human rights situation and the war in Syria, US ground forces - perhaps in coordination with European ground forces - are improbable. US President Obama of all people isn't likely to approve such a precarious military intervention during the last year of his presidency.
Do you believe Saudi Arabia might act alone?
I don't think so. Bearing in mind the Saudi intervention in Yemen, I'm very skeptical about the Saudis' military capabilities to shoulder even the logistics of such an intervention.
What are the consequences of Assad's offensive for the Geneva peace talks, which have been suspended until February 25?
Basically, this current attack and in particular the battle for Aleppo are the final nails in the coffin of Geneva III. The constant push by Assad's forces in combination with the Russian air force and backing from Iran and various Shiite militia have already turned the peace talks into a farce. Add to that the fact that the opposition is bitterly divided. The next round of talks in Geneva was set to be a kind of symbolic triumph for the Assad regime anyway. Under the current conditions, the negotiations won't restart in earnest.
Has diplomacy failed?
US diplomacy - entering into the third round of Geneva talks without preconditions, thus accommodating the Russian side and the Syrian government - has failed. It would have taken a definite cutback in airstrikes by Assad and Russia to give the opposition greater confidence in the negotiating process.
What impact will the battle for Aleppo have on the displacement of millions of people?
The consequences are severe. You have to remember that Aleppo, with its 4 million inhabitants, used to be Syria's largest city, and hundreds of thousands still lived - or rather held out - there despite the disastrous fighting. In view of this new offensive, many have set out for the border with Turkey. Not opening the border and promptly helping these people, giving them a protected area at least in Turkey, would be irresponsible.
IS benefits because, at the moment, it isn't under attack from Syrian government troops, Russia or Iran. That actually wasn't the case very much in the past, either. On the other hand, attacks by the anti-IS alliance, which Germany joined in the wake of the shootings and bombings in Paris last November, have greatly increased. As a result, the IS sphere of influence both in Syria and Iraq has shrunk over the past few months.