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Why The War In Syria Is Far From Over

After the fall of Aleppo, various alliances of convenience will be put to the test, as the scenario suddenly gets more complicated for both Damascus and Moscow.

A pro-government Syrian soldier prepares ammunition in Aleppo.
A pro-government Syrian soldier prepares ammunition in Aleppo.
Isabelle Lasserre


It had long been anticipated, but the fall of Aleppo still marks a decisive turning point in the Syrian war. It basically eliminates the opposition's ability to pose a military challenge or position itself as a political alternative. And it puts Bashar al-Assad solidly back on track. Supported by Russia and Iran, he has a new lease on political life, at least in the medium term.

But what the fall of Aleppo clearly is not, is the end of the war. It just marks the beginning of a new phase. The Syrian government will now, without a doubt, focus on securing its territorial gains but also on retaking, by force, the regions of the so-called "useful Syria" that still escape its control.

In the meantime, the Geneva peace process could well be swept away. David Petraeus told the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Manama Dialogue in Bahrein, last weekend that it was "very late in the day indeed," to find a political solution. The American general, who was in charge of pacifying northern Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, did not exclude a partitioning of Syria as a possible solution.

But the country's fragmentation won't necessarily bring peace and stability. The recapture of Palmyra by ISIS on Sunday is a timely reminder of that. It's a setback for the regime and for Russia, which had driven ISIS out of the ancient city in March, and it proves that the jihadists are resourceful. It's one of the laws of war: it is often more difficult to hold a city than to capture it.

The fall of Aleppo, coming after a long agony to which the international community — and especially Muslim countries — have turned a blind eye, could lead the rebels, sickened by this abandonment, to radicalize and join the ranks of the jihadist forces: either ISIS or the former al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch.

Raqqa remains

While the international coalition is hopeful it can recapture Mosul, ISIS" "capital city" in Iraq, it hasn't yet really attacked Raqqa, the terrorist group's Syrian stronghold, which remains both a retreat and a stepping stone — confirmation that the jihadists largely still have free rein in Syria.

Assad and Putin last year — Photo: Kremlin

Assad's ability to retake control of Syria is far from established, even with the help of his Russian and Iranian godfathers. In all wars, abuses and violent acts committed by the enemy provoke a radicalization. "Even if the regime captures the whole territory, the opposition's violence against the government and its desire for revenge will only grow," a Syrian opposition member said during the same Bahrein conference where Patraeus spoke. "Even if it wins the war, this authority will have no legitimacy to govern the people. The international community waited for Aleppo to fall, thinking they'd be rid of the problem. That won't be the case."

The coming new stage of the Syrian war will also test the fragile Russia-Turkey alliance. Having materialized in Syria with eased tensions between Damascus and Ankara, the time will eventually come to deal with the Kurdish question. "The Syrian war is made of three circles: international, regional and Syrian," a diplomat warns. "One can't solve the third circle without solving the other two first, especially the disagreements between Russia and the United States, as well as between Iran and Saudi Arabia."

So far, Russia has been dictating the military scenario in the Syrian conflict. But the complexity of the crisis, the entanglement of regional interests and the multiplication of those global players involved in the conflict make finding a unilateral "solution" — like Moscow did in ending the war in Chechnya — much less likely.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

Cameron Manley


“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

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How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

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