In early December, Vladimir Putin visited the Russian Hmeimim airbase in Syria, accompanied by Bashar Al Assad. In a meeting with Syrian officers, he singled out Gen Suheil Al Hassan, the head of the Tiger Force in the Syrian army, as an effective military commander.

Mr Putin implied that the Russians were watching Gen Al Hassan closely, suggesting to a paranoid Mr Al Assad that he could emerge as a favourite of Moscow if the Syrian president were forced out of office. All of this was implicit, nothing more, but the look of dread on Gen Al Hassan’s face showed he regarded the praise as a mixed blessing, as it could push the Al Assads to get rid of him.

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This article was originally published in The National.