On September 11, 2018, Russia’s embassy in London tweeted comments from a RIA Novosti interview with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov, who said that Russia, Turkey, and Iran have achieved “progress” in Syria. He claimed that Syria has been “preserved as an independent state” and that the “ISIS war machine is in ashes.”
While it is true that Bashar al-Assad remains in power, many of Syria’s important cities lay in ruins from Russian and regime bombardment or that of the U.S.-led coalition. Aleppo is a prime example.The once thriving city has been largely destroyed by regime and Russian air strikes and artillery attacks. Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State (IS), was almost completely destroyed by U.S. and coalition air strikes. Numerous photos show how many of Syria’s cities have been laid to waste after years of civil war.CNN reported in March that government reconstruction was “almost non-existent” in cities where fighting had stopped.
And while Syria’s government and Russia have begun a push to oust rebels from Idlib Province, al-Assad still lacks control over large swathes of Syrian territory. Turkey has been closely involved with the rebels in the Idlib region and maintains a military presence in northern Syria, controlling areas near the Turkish border.
A significant portion of Syria’s north and east is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely organized around the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The Kurds declared autonomy in their regions at the start of the Syrian revolution and thus the government, while negotiating with the rebels, does not control that territory. Earlier this year, an attempt to by pro-government forces capture some of this territory with the help of Russian mercenaries from the so-called “Wagner group” led to lethal air and artillery strikes from U.S. forces stationed with the SDF.
The Assad regime remains reliant on Russia and Iran, both militarily and financially, for survival. Even as far back as 2014 it was largely dependent on Iranian financial aid. The regime has also had trouble finding people to fight for it. The government’s so-called “Syrian Arab Army” is mostly a mixture of various militias, bolstered by Hezbollah militias from neighboring Lebanon, along with Iranian-organized Shiite militias from countries like Iraq and even Afghanistan, as well as fighters from a Russian paramilitary company.
IS has been largely defeated in Syria, but it was pushed out mainly by the Syrian Democratic Forces with the help of the U.S. and its coalition. The Pentagon claimed earlier in the year that Islamic State was making something of a comeback in Syria. Even Russia’s Defense Ministry recognized an “escalation” by IS groups in some places, after a devastating attack by Islamic State fighters in August on the regime-held town of Suwayda.