Ostentatious military exercises and coded language out of Moscow indicate #Russia may be considering a conventional ground forces deployment to #Syria.
A Russian conventional deployment would likely be intended to leverage Turkey into ceding portions of opposition-held #Idlib in negotiations, after Russia and Turkey failed to strike a deal in September.
A Russian unit, if deployed, could also participate in a pro-Assad regime offensive, exploiting a regime chemical weapons attack or enabling an assault on Jisr al-Shughour.
In the past month, the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria has baselessly and repeatedly claimed that #HTS is planning a false-flag chemical attack in Idlib. Such claims have preceded prior regime chemical attacks, likely to muddy attribution.
Meanwhile, an unusual number of battalion-sized units in Russia's Southern and Western Military Districts have practiced operating in a chemical weapons environment, in Russia's #kavkaz2020 exercises and in simultaneous and subsequent snap exercises.
Russia and the regime have also stepped up air and artillery attacks on Jisr al-Shughour in the past month. Opposition and al Qaeda fighters in Jisr al-Shughour present a persistent threat to Russia's Hmeimim airbase and #Assad's Alawite support base in Latakia.
Regime forces tried and failed to take Jisr al-Shughour through the mountainous terrain to the city's west on several occasions since 2015. More-capable Russian forces may succeed, particularly as regime gains have set conditions for an attack from the city's east.
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