Syria's conflict appears to be approaching an endgame. Bashar al-Assad is regaining the upper hand - with Russian help, partly in the guise of massive air support, and probably also with massive logistical and technical assistance for the Syrian army on the ground. The struggle for Aleppo has taken on the character of a decisive turning point. If Assad's troops recapture the city completely, the Syrian despot will have won more than just a battle: He will again become the all-dominant factor in a Syria that is burning and devastated. Syrian citizens, however, would still only have the choice either to flee, to conform or to die.
On the other hand, Syria is now almost no more than an artificial geographical term. It has become a mosaic of regions, places, villages and regions - and, occasionally, of cities. Sometimes, the Syrian government holds sway in these places, sometimes the various opposition forces, and sometimes murderous gangs like the al-Nusra Front or the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). The people, the citizens of Syria, have only one role in this bloody civil war: They are victims. Their lives count for nought.
Russia at Assad's side
Assad's comeback is down to the Russians. They have exploited the power vacuum. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped into it decisively. One of his goals is for Assad to remain in power. At present, the Kremlin is gearing everything to this end. That is the source of this radical military purposefulness, completely devoid of any hesitancy. The second goal is to stabilize the region - by means of an autocracy, if necessary. No one is talking about an Arab Spring anymore, let alone about the nice idea of an Arab democracy. This concept has been shelved as a pipe dream. But the question of whether a ruined Syria can be any kind of stabilizing factor in even the most remote sense is one that no one is able, or prepared, to answer.
The entire West, and in particular the US - i.e. Barack Obama - is watching on helplessly, but above all passively. It knows that a military intervention will not change anything and could carry the risk of triggering an even more terrible escalation involving even more different parties. And at whose side would Western troops fight, anyway?
That is why the politicians are determinedly putting all their faith in peace talks in Geneva - even if these won't be resumed until the end of February. There, the West is hoping for a resolution achieved at the negotiating table - while in Syria, hard facts are being created on the ground. The all-decisive question is: Who would rule Syria after a negotiated peace is reached? An opposition that has no one behind it? Assad - with Russian bayonets at his back? Or - let us be plain: the Islamist jihadists? And will there even be a Syria again in the way it existed before 2011? The Western helplessness has created the power vacuum which the terror militias and Putin and Assad were able to muscle into in the first place.
So what is left are the proxy war and thus the two regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh has seen which way the wind is blowing. Hesitant, or even fearful, restraint won't get anyone anywhere. From now on, the US will only give conditional support to the kingdom, more in the way of just propping it up. So players have to rely on their own strength: Saudi Arabia is now even offering to send in ground troops against "IS" - an almost revolutionary change in attitude, born of a fear of how things could end. But the true winner of this murderous game of power is Iran. For the war in Syria and its aftermath are going to make Iran the dominant regional power in the Middle East. This is causing concern in Israel. The endgame in Syria has begun.
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