Russia politics: Quick View - Russia and Syrian regime intensify air strikes in Idlib

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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Russia and Syria have stepped up their air operations against rebel-held areas in Idlib, a city in north-western Syria, after a Russian Su-25 fighter jet was shot down over Idlib on February 3rd.


The Russian pilot ejected himself safely from the aircraft, but then later killed himself with a grenade after encountering rebel forces on the ground, according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Defence. It is the first time that a Russian military jet has been shot down by ground fire over Syria; the Russian defence ministry said that the Su-25 has been hit by a missile fired from a portable anti-aircraft system.

The response from Russian and regime aircraft has been substantial, with a significant increase in both the frequency and intensity of air strikes. Non-governmental organisations operating in the target areas said that Syrian government forces made extensive use of chlorine bombs and repeatedly targeted medical centres. Such reports will increase international concern about the campaign in Idlib, which is already in theory an agreed de-escalation zone.

However, the UN currently has little leverage over events in Syria, with Russia dominating peace efforts, as shown by the recent peace conference that it organised in Sochi, Russia, in late January. Meanwhile the US has stopped short of defining chlorine bombs as chemical weapons, indicating a strong desire to avoid targeting the regime and sucking itself further into the conflict. Moreover, with Turkey opening a new front against the Kurds in Afrin and threatening to turn on US-backed mainly Kurdish forces in Manbij, many of the main international actors in the conflict are distracted by events elsewhere, and the government offensive in Idlib is thus likely to continue in the coming months.

The impact will be sizeable from a humanitarian standpoint. Up to 2m refugees had made their way to Idlib prior to the government assault, with a further 200,000 internally displaced in the region since the government advance began. But with Turkey wary of a refugee influx, there are few options available to those fleeing the fighting, suggesting that the civilian casualty count is likely to increase.

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