Russian warplanes fly over Syria’s Mediterranean city of Latakia. Russia is making a big difference to the course of the conflict in Syria. Image Credit: REUTERS

Beirut: Syrian regime forces scored a major victory on Wednesday by recapturing two Shiite villages just north of Aleppo, breaking a rebel siege in-place since July 2012.

Not only does this military feat relieve over thirty thousand inhabitants held captive for forty-two months, but also gives government forces thousands of new troops to march and encircle Aleppo.

The breaking of the siege of Nubul and Al Zahra basically cuts the last north rebel supply route from Turkey to Aleppo.

There is no telling how battlefield developments will play out between now and late February, but judging by their record since last September, the Russians are tipping the balance strongly in favour of regime forces.

Six months ago, shortly after his troops set up base at the Hmaymeem Airport on the Syrian coast, President Vladimir Putin deployed twelve SU-24 tactical bombers, capable of long-range missions with up to eight tons of ammunition, to the Syrian battlefield.

He then sent twelve SU-25 ground-support fighters and eight SU-34s, considered the most sophisticated bomber ever made by the Russian army.

Putin also sent four SU-30 air superiority fighter jets and four SU-35s, a highly advanced superiority fighter jet, compared only to the American F-35.

Next came S400 air defence missiles and a battleship near the port city of Latakia with an advanced air defence system, giving the Russians full control of Syrian skies.

They also deployed two dozen M1-24 P helicopters, or flying tanks, and sophisticated satellite imagery provided by advanced drones.

The Russians were putting on a grand show of force, firing long-range from Russia to Syria. The TU-160, TU-95 and TU-22, which are strategic bombers built during the cold war (originally designed to drop nukes on the US) were used to launch cruise missiles and to carpet-bomb with unguided munitions positions in Syria.

Moscow has also launched cruise missiles from battleships in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas on targets in Syria. It has enhanced the firepower of their Syrian allies with long-range field artillery, long-range multiple rocket launchers, and an unspecified number of T-90A tanks, equipped with an arena system capable of defeating any anti-tank missile, including the famous TOW.

Russian supplies even included body armour, assault rifles, and new types of RPGs.

This major airlift has turned the tables in Syria.

Last Christmas, the Russians killed Zahran Alloush, the high profile Saudi-backed Jaish Al Islam commander.

This greatly undermined the morale of the rebels in Al Ghouta, the agricultural belt surrounding Damascus, and was followed by recapture of the Marj Al Sultan Airbase nearby, which had fallen to rebel forces in 2012.

This gave government troops a threshold in Al Ghouta, territory from which they have been totally absent since 2012.

In southern Syria, government troops recently recaptured Shaikh Miskin, an important crossroad north of Daraa, near the border with Jordan.

In the Syrian north, they have managed to cut the Aleppo-Turkey road, retake the Idleb-Aleppo one, and recapture entire stretches of land, estimated at 400 square kilometres south of Aleppo. They have also lifted the siege of Kuweires Airbase east of Aleppo, freeing thousands of Syrian troops held hostage since 2012, and are now 8km short of Al Bab, a major Daesh stronghold, and only 40km from the Turkish border.

The recaptured Kuweires base is providing a strategic launching pad for the Syrian Army for upcoming assault north or southeast towards Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh.

Along the Syrian coast, government forces have managed to retake the rugged mountains north of Latakia city, putting them at a stone’s throw from the rebel-held Jisr Al Shughour and Idlib cities, which have become major strongholds for the Al Qaida-affiliated Al Nusra Front and the Turkish-backed Ahrar Al Sham.

The Latakia victory was trumpeted by state-run media because of the tough geography, the bad weather, and the fierce foreign fighters used in the battles. It was completed in just ten weeks.

As for the fight against Daesh, the Syrian Army rebuffed two massive assaults, one against the Hama-Aleppo road, and another against the city of Deir Al Zor along the Euphrates.

The Syrian Army have recently captured the hilltops commanding the cities of Palmyra and Al Quaryatain, and have fire control over both Daesh-held cities, waiting to attack.

Interestingly, neither rebel troops nor Daesh have advanced since the start of Russian operations last September.

For an entire year before that date, one city after another had fallen from the hands of Syrian officialdom: Raqqa, Palmyra, Idlib, Jisr Al Shughour, Albu Kamal, and almost all of Al Qamishli and all of Deir Al Zor.