MESOP Syria Daily: Amid Aleppo Losses, Russia’s Defense Minister Visits Assad

19 June 2016 – Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Amid further losses for pro-Assad forces near Syria’s largest city Aleppo, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a sudden visit to the President in Damascus.

Shoigu arrived on Saturday at the Russian military’s Hmeimim base in Latakia Province in western Syria, purportedly to review troops and S-400 anti-air defense systems before traveling to the capital.

Syrian State news agency SANA gave no details of the “work visit…commissioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin”, saying only that it was “on military cooperation between the two countries and the joint work to combat terrorist organizations on the Syrian territories”.

The Russian Defense Ministry held to the same line of a discussion “upon the request” of Putin: “Topical issues concerning military cooperation between the two countries’ defense ministries, as well as certain aspects of cooperation in the fight against terror groups that are active on Syrian territory, were discussed at the meeting.”

Shoigu also ordered the commander of the Russian “reconciliation center” to “encourage local administrations and fighters to”cease fire and join the peace process”, according to the Ministry.

How to Respond to Defeats?

Earlier this month, amid setbacks for pro-Assad forces near Aleppo city, Shoigu and Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij went to Tehran for consultations with Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan. There has been no information about the topics of the discussions. Iran and Russia have differed in the level of their support for President Assad’s future. While Tehran has proclaimed that Assad’s departure — through military action or political negotiations — is a “red line” that cannot be crossed, Moscow has given indications that it would accept a regime without the President in the long-term.Assad has held firm, rejecting a transitional governing authority in which he would step aside. That line, as well as continued Russian and regime bombing and sieges, collapsed political talks brokered by the UN between January and April.However, the regime has failed to establish a secure position despite Russian intervention with thousands of airstrikes, supporting ground offensive by Iranian units, Hezbollah fighters, and foreign militias alongside the Syrian military. Gains have been limited to some territory in Latakia Province in western Syria and to part of the East Ghouta area near Damascus.Meanwhile, rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra have put further pressure on pro-Assad forces this week with their fourth advance south of Aleppo since early April. On Friday, they completed the capture of three villages, including the key position of Kalasah after four days of intense battles. The advance opens the way to attacks on the town of al-Hadher, the last significant position gained by the pro-Assad offensive last autumn.

Russian State media ignored the rebel success. Instead, the “center for reconciliation” declared, “In the northern part of the Aleppo province, near the Syrian-Turkish border, the units of the Syrian Armed Forces have stopped a large-scale offensive of military formations of Jabhat al-Nusra.”