Russia's role in helping Syria retake Aleppo from rebel forces extended beyond its deadly airstrikes. For the past two months, hundreds of Russian special operations forces have also secretly been on the ground in Aleppo, the site of some of the Syrian civil war's worst devastation, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. These forces, whose presence Russia has largely kept covert, likely played a crucial role in aiding the Syrian government towards its recent victory in the city.
The Russian forces reportedly assumed a combat role in Aleppo, "helping the Syrian army with a focus on targeting rebel leaders in the eastern half of the city," The Wall Street Journal reported, citing two Russian military experts. But Russian special forces probably had ulterior motives other than helping Syria's army:
The presence of Russian special forces underscores the strategic importance for the Kremlin to make sure Aleppo is firmly in the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the allies seek to restart any negotiations on Syria's future. Any such talks are unlikely until after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, bringing what is expected to be a more friendly U.S. outlook toward Russia. [The Wall Street Journal]
Since a ceasefire was reached earlier this week after years of deadly fighting in Aleppo, thousands of rebel fighters and civilians have been evacuated from the eastern districts of the city. When Aleppo is completely evacuated, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will have regained total control of the city from rebel forces for the first time since 2012.