The US-Russian relationship in Syria has been a frosty one with its share of risks. Russia's direct intervention in the Syrian civil war began with strikes on anti-Assad militias covertly supported by the West and on the CIA-provided weapons depots that supplied them. Those strikes exposed to the world what had previously been a black program. Russian fighters have routinely harassed US jets and unmanned aerial vehicles and invaded NATO airspace - a pattern that culminated in the downing of a Russian warplane over Turkish soil in mid-2015. Meanwhile, Syrian insurgents have been filmed destroying Russian armour and helicopters using sophisticated US weaponry.
Having reached the six-year anniversary, the death toll is now counted by the hundreds of thousands with a refugee crisis tallied in the millions. The catastrophe in Syria remains a dark stain on the soul of humanity that challenges previously held norms and assumptions.
The direction of events in Syria raises a number of questions about the current diplomacy of the Syrian war which have potential implications far beyond Syria itself. These relate primarily to the intentions of Russia in the Syrian conflict, and also to the stance that the new US Administration will take.
Regarding Russia, the question is what Putin is looking for in Syria - how do the Russians see the endgame?
Putin will use Aleppo's capture to damage US foreign policy. His intentions are already clear. After all, in English-news propaganda outlets such as RT, the Russians are proudly rejecting American demands that Sunni rebels be given safe passage out of Aleppo. It's Obama vs. Putin 101. Unwilling to pressure Russia, Obama is simply ignored by Putin. Through this public display of American impotence, Putin asserts his grand strategy in the Middle East.
With the Assad regime, and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies, making major in-roads into the rebel-head eastern district of Aleppo, it now looks like only a matter of time until the city falls to the regime. With US President-elect Trump having pledged to ignore the Syrian conflict and to seek a partnership with Russia, but also having pledged to fight back against the Iranian drive to dominate the region, and with the fall of Aleppo likely to provide a major boost to the Iranian axis - the events in Syria look likely to place the Trump Administration in a dilemma over Syria when they take over. This Update features analysis of that dilemma.