The Russian military police has started training local militia forces in the Syrian governorate of Aleppo, according to Fars News Agency, an Iranian outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). Quoting an unnamed Russian military official, the agency adds that the training program makes local villagers combat-ready to defend themselves, and that Russian forces had previously run similar training courses in the provinces of Damascus, Latakia and Homs. A Syrian official described the program as essential to maintaining security in Aleppo.
Comment: The training program for local militia forces is part of Moscow’s broader strategy to consolidate the Syrian regime’s latest territorial gains, particularly in Aleppo. The Russian military has also increased its assistance to the Syrian army and air force personnel. Russian media outlets revealed two months ago that Moscow had dispatched a battalion of military policemen affiliated with the country’s Defense Ministry to help the train, advise and assist Syrian government forces.
The Russian military may hope that local security forces can keep the opposition at bay while the Syrian army is overstretched. But the primary beneficiary of the program is likely to be Iran. The I.R.G.C. and its Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese Shiite proxies dominate ground realities in Syria and will control the newly-established local security forces – exacerbating sectarian violence that has already killed half a million Syrians in the past six years. In December, the Syrian army and Iranian-led forces – backed by Russian air support – seized Aleppo, the last major urban stronghold of the Syrian opposition forces.