Russia's support for Assad was recently looking uncertain given that it looked like Assad's fortunes were going down rapidly.
But now Russia is firmly in Assad's corner:
Syria's foreign minister said in Moscow on Monday Russia had promised to send political, economic and military aid to his country, where the army is coming under some of the heaviest pressure since the start of the civil war.
Insurgent groups have made gains against government forces in northwest, central and southern Syria in the past two months but Damascus has voiced confidence that it can hold on to important territory with the help of its allies.
"I got a promise of aid to Syria - politically, economically and militarily," Walid al-Moualem said at a televised news conference after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. He did not give details.
Putin said earlier on Monday there was no change in Russia's support for the Syrian leadership.
What territory that Assad can control is important? If the correlation of forces as Russia seemed to see it showed Assad going down trying to hold what he has now--which has long seemed beyond his power--how is the correlation of forces going to change in Assad's favor?
Is Assad planning to withdraw to a core Syria (that includes Damascus) or even a rump Syria that transfers the capital of Syria to the coast and abandons Damascus?
Did Moualem brief Putin and get his blessing as a way to maintain Russia's access to a port at Tartus?
Could Assad have territorial ambitions in Lebanon (acting through Hezbollah rather than open occupation?)?
Yet after such heavy losses, can Assad's ground forces hold even a smaller state?
I know I'm drawing a potential picture with virtually no dots and based on what I think the different parties would and can do.
An Assad secure in his northwestern corner of Syria is good enough for Putin who has alienated Europe to capture Crimea as a base to project naval power into the eastern Mediterranean Sea--which would be less valuable if Russia doesn't have a secure port in the eastern Mediterranean.
Perhaps the question of whether a rump Syria rather than a core Syria is good enough for Iran will be answered, as well.
UPDATE: Syria is prepared to use chemical weapons to keep Assad in power:
U.S. intelligence agencies believe there is a strong possibility the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on a large scale as part of a last-ditch effort to protect key Syrian government strongholds if Islamist fighters and other rebels try to overrun them, U.S. officials said. ...
Last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad let international inspectors oversee the removal of what President Barack Obama called the regime’s most deadly chemical weapons. The deal averted U.S. airstrikes that would have come in retaliation for an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
Since then, the U.S. officials said, the Assad regime has developed and deployed a new type of chemical bomb filled with chlorine, which Mr. Assad could now decide to use on a larger scale in key areas. U.S. officials also suspect the regime may have squirreled away at least a small reserve of the chemical precursors needed to make nerve agents sarin or VX. Use of those chemicals would raise greater international concerns because they are more deadly than chlorine and were supposed to have been eliminated.
Is this a warning to ISIL to stay away from a retreating Assad, as he falls back to a core or rump Syria? And more importantly a way for Assad to reassure his supporters that a retreat can be orderly and successful--we'll do what it takes to survive--rather than a bug out and every clan for itself?