The ceasefire that was agreed seemed to give cause for hope. I was sceptical since we have seen so many false dawns. Why should anyone expect the ophthalmologist to honour this promise when he has broken every promise he has ever made? How about in 2011 his repeated vows to enact genuine reform? How about the several ceasefires over the past 5 years that his forces have broken on a huge scale? His foes too have broken ceasefires.
The United States and Russia hammered out this ceasefire deal. The Syrian military has been refusing to allow humanitarian aid into besieged areas. The United Nations and many human rights organisation have repeatedly complained about the Syrian Government preventing them from providing vital aid to civilians in rebel held areas.
Ban Ki Moon is the most respected arbiter of international affairs. As UN Secretary General he speaks for humanity. He is accepted by all nations. He has to tread carefully lest he offend a mighty nation overmuch. Yet even he was compelled to speak with candour. He denounced the Syrian regime for purposefully blocking food and medicines from reaching insurgent held areas. He also castigated Damascus for using torture on a massive scale. Ban Ki Moon told the plain truth when he said that the Syrian Government has been dropping barrel bombs on neighbourhoods.
This cessation of hostilities was supposed to enable the UN to deliver comestibles and medicine to the beleagured areas under rebel control. Bombs destroyed a convoy and killed 20 civilian aid workers. The US is confident enough to accuse Moscow of doing this. As some American officials said off the record the Syrian Air Force is not sophisticated enough to execute such an attack. Russian news (entirely pro Kremlin) claimed that ISIS blew up the convoy. That fails the reality test. Why would ISIS blow up a convoy that is bringing food and medicine to an area held by them? The ISIS fighters will have first pick of the supplies and medicine.
Cui bono? The beneficiary from this crime is patently the Assad regime. They prevented that aid convoy from getting through. The UN immediately suspended all other aid convoys. The Syrian dictatorship’s strategy has been to starve Syrian civilians to death. The Assad regime willfully killed 10 000 civilians in Hama in the 1980s. The man who did that was promoted and not tried. President Assad has shown himself very happy to kill his people by the tens of thousands. ISIS is absolutely horrific. Why would some people support such barbarians? Some sincerely share ISIS’s agenda. Others do so because they detest the Ba’athists even more. They realise that if the Ba’athists get their hands on them they face a grim fate indeed.
Moscow’s policy has always been to lie and lie and lie. Just like Moscow insisted that no Russian soldiers had entered Crimea in 2014. They claim that no Russians went to eastern Ukraine to fight. Then that changed to no Russian soldiers. They persists is pretending that they do not supply weapons to the pro Moscow rebels in the Ukraine. They have been caught hoaxing documents pretending to come from the US Government. They disseminated the myth that NATO promised that Ukraine would never be permitted to join. They spread the falsehood that the Ukrainian military shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight. In the USA whistleblowers are sent to prison. In Russia they are extrajudicially killed.
Experts can examine imagery of the bomb site and determine whether the explosion came from missiles fired by warplane or by roadside bombs. The USA may even be able to show satellite footage or other evidence of the Russian Air Force committing this crime against humanity.
This is not to say that the US is entirely innocent. In other places the US Government has connived at torture. She has also used waterboarding and extraordinary rendition. None of this was in Syria. The US Air Force bombed the Syrian Army lately and killed dozens of its men. The USAF said it was an accident as they were trying to smash ISIS but the Syrian Army had moved. the USAF informed the Russians of the attack in advance. The Russians may well have let the Syrian Army be in the wrong position. They want there to be bad blood between the Syrian Government and the USA. They want to spin the lie that the US backs ISIS. Why would the USA support ISIS and then bomb it? This makes no sense at all.
The US military is capable of making mistakes. There is the fog of war and positions move all the time.
If you are a civilian in a rebel held area you may dread the government retaking your town. Syrian soldiers have often robbed all the money they can from such people. Men will be tortured on suspicion that they might have assisted the rebels willingly or due to coercion. They may be killed out of hand or as a reprisal for some of the massacres committed by the rebels.
Russia will not be able to sustain offensive operations much longer. Russia is in a recession. With hydrocarbon prices still fairly low Russia is in trouble. She cannot pay for the conflict in the Ukraine and Syria. Sanctions are biting. She is forced to spend ever more of her GDP on her inflated military. This is what brought down the USSR in the 1980s.
If the conflicts are protracted and costly Putin will be obliged to think again. Others have less sangfroid about ruining their country. If Russia’s enemies are resolute and have deep pockets then Russia will be obliged to change course. Her fulsome backing for Dr Assad has made him obdurate. He is plainly extremely unpopular. He has lost control of most of Syria’s territory and people. Despite massive foreign support he has not been able to win it back in over five and a half years because he is so reviled by most of his people. He does at least permit liberty in the personal sphere.
Unfortunately much of the Russian populace is gullible and credulous. This is even worse than in the US. The media is entirely. pliant. Therefore Putin’s unnecessary and costly wars have not significantly dented his popularity. He has not even needed to rig elections this time. Real opposition parties are usually disqualified this time. The Kremlin felt self-assured enough to permit two genuine opposition parties to field candidates this time. For the forseeable future Putin will continue to support Assad’s genocide. There is no good outcome that will occur. In the end there will be a Ba’athist victory though they may have to more or less cede the Kurdish and Turcoman regions and a low level insurgency may sputter on.