A Russian-made helicopter hovers over Latakia airport in the government-controlled coastal Syrian city on September 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID
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The Russian escalation has ended any prospect of Assad being ousted by military force, despite the near collapse of his army in the face of rebel advances, and will consolidate the de facto partitioning of Syria, most analysts believe.Residents of the coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad's Alawite minority, say the increase in Russia's military presence began as early as June and, along with it, preparations for an eventual breakup of the country of 23 million people.Russia's plan is to help forces loyal to Assad to hold and reinforce the Alawite enclave in the coastal and mountainous north-west, Syria-watchers say.If Assad were pushed out of Damascus and the capital fell either to ISIS or other Islamist rebels, Russia and the Syrian government's allies such as Iran and Hezbollah would have dug him a well-fortified fallback position in Latakia.While the Kremlin says its deployment is part of the international fight against ISIS, its main goal is to boost Assad and defend Russia's beachhead on Syria's north-west coast, Ford said.
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