David Hearst writes: Whether by habit, or tradition, the US presidential transition is the ideal time to deal with unfinished business. The handover from one administration to its successor offers tempting opportunities to create new facts on the ground in the Middle East.
Israel used the transition between George Bush and Barack Obama to launch Operation Cast Lead on Gaza which stopped two days before Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. Russia is now using the transition from Obama to Trump to do the same in Aleppo.
Both sides in the Syrian civil war understand the significance of timing. The rebels foolishly depended on Hillary Clinton’s assurances to hang on until she came into power. They had no plan B for a Clinton defeat.
Conversely, the Russians understand that they have to finish off east Aleppo by the time Donald Trump is inaugurated. With the Old City fallen, the task is almost complete.
Vladimir Putin does not simply think he has just won back Aleppo. He also thinks he has won the argument with America. This much was clear from the tenor of Sergei Lavrov’s speech last week in Rome. He thinks the incoming administration has finally got the message that “terrorists” – however Russia happens to define them – pose a greater threat to US national security than Assad does.
His argument is one that few would now disagree: from Afghanistan to Libya, America used Salafi jihadis as levers for regime change only to find these weapons turned on them. Russia, Lavrov continued, was not married to Assad. But it was wedded to the Syrian state.
Russia’s actions, as opposed to Lavrov’s words, tell a different story. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, just over 10,000 people in Syria were killed by Russian airstrikes between 30 September 2015 and 30 October this year, of whom 2,861 were members of the Islamic State (IS) group, 3,079 fighters from rebel and Islamic factions, 2,565 males over the age of 18,1,013 children under the age of eighteen and 584 women.
From these figures alone, and there are others, it is clear that Russia has waged total war on an unprotected population in rebel-held areas. War on its people, its hospitals, and its markets, just like it did in Grozny 16 years ago. Its actions differ little from those of the Syrian army. Like all colonial powers, the Russian Federation has arrogated on itself the choice of deciding which Syrians live and which die. And if they are in rebel-held areas, they all die together. [Continue reading…]