Charles Lister writes: The capture of Palmyra is an invaluable opportunity for the Assad regime and Russia to now proclaim themselves as capable and willing partners in the fight against ISIS. But we must not forget that the Assad regime purposefully ignored ISIS gains in Syria for nearly 18 months — April 2013 to August 2014 — as they proved an effective counterweight to the mainstream opposition. There is also bountiful evidence of the Assad regime’s deep and decades-long complicity in bolstering ISIS and its predecessor movements, for the purpose of manipulating them into shaping Syria’s domestic and foreign policy agendas. While there can be no doubting that ISIS’ loss of Palmyra represents a substantial strategic blow to their operations in Syria, this is the Assad regime’s first major victory against the group — after its presence on its territory for 3 years.
Events in Palmyra will also affect the viability of the political process in Geneva. Russia’s intervention has fundamentally transformed the balance of power on the ground and for the first time since mid-2013, the Assad regime is sitting comfortably in Damascus. Having recaptured Palmyra in a widely reported military operation conducted with Russian support, there is now no reason at all for Bashar al-Assad to even get close to considering a political transition. The next round of Geneva talks are scheduled to begin on April 11. Not only will this almost certainly be delayed, but the prospects for any progress on the substantive issue of political change look slim to none. [Continue reading…]