With the United States, and the whole world for that matter, heavily focused on the U.S. presidential election, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that Russia is planning a major new offensive on the city of Aleppo, Syria, in the coming hours.
There are ominous signs that this could be a much larger-scale attack than previous rounds of airstrikes. Russia has been assembling a major strike force off the eastern coast of Syria, including a frigate armed with cruise-missiles, a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. (If the latter is deployed, this would be the first time a Russian or Soviet aircraft carrier has ever been used in combat.)
Russia has been observing a temporary moratorium on airstrikes for the past few days, urging fighters and civilians to leave rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (The Syrian government has also used this time to give Western journalists a rare look at the regime-held parts of the city as part of a controversial government-supervised tour.) Fighting by both sides on the ground has continued, with Russian-backed Syrian government forces appearing to push back recent gains by rebels. But the Kremlin said on Monday that the temporary moratorium, which technically expired last Friday, would remain in effect.
When major airstrikes against Aleppo began in September, Russia and Syria came under heavy condemnation from Western and Middle Eastern governments, including accusations of war crimes. Leaders in Damascus and Moscow may have decided that with everyone, including the Russian public, momentarily distracted, this is as good a time as any to get back to the grisly business at hand.