Russia’s Other Battlefield: The Civil War In Syria

In retaliation to attacks killing civilians in Hama and Latakia provinces, Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes on June 25th, targeting alleged “terrorist positions” in Syria’s Idlib province. The cities of Idlib and Benin, along with the al-Arbeen mountain area, witnessed the devastating impact of two Su-24 and one Su-34  warplanes dropping bombs. The consequences were dire, with at least 5 rebel fighters and 30 civilians, including children, losing their lives and these numbers are expected to rise.

The Jisr al-Shughour market, a vital source of sustenance for North-Syrians, fell victim to the onslaught. Witnesses, like Reda Hayshid, a 21-year-old vegetable vendor, describe the horrifying transformation of the market into a pool of blood and remnants of victims in an instant. This ruthless disregard for human rights by Damascus is evident as these Russian-led attacks align with Syria’s strategy of escalating the frequency of assaults, as highlighted by Ahmed Yazji, a member of the Syria Civil Defence’s board of directors. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights deemed these attacks “the deadliest in Syria this year”, sending a grim signal for the future of the region’s population.

Indeed, this recent Russian offensive has raised significant concerns as essential symbols of local livelihoods come under attack. I think, it is crucial to recognize that Russia’s involvement in the conflict is intricately linked to its rivalry with the United States, serving as a means to counter anti-government groups supported by its adversary while also securing its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Russian efforts to broker a ceasefire in March 2020 must be viewed with skepticism, as simutaneously, Russia and Syria demanded that Ankara withdraw its troops from the rebel-held enclave in order to gain its control.

Syria’s civil war ignited in 2011 following pro-democratic demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by the government. The Syrian government sought the support of Russia and Iran in combating what it referred to as “extremist jihadist groups”, a term in which the regime included anti-Assad factions like the Free Syrian Army. The conflict has endured for 12 years, resulting in a staggering death toll of over half a million people and forcing half of the population to flee their homeland. The complexity of the war has escalated further, involving not only military advisors but also the presence of private military contractors such as the Wagner Group.

Therefore, the recent Russian attacks in Syria pose a significant threat to both peace and the fundamental human rights of the population residing in the Idlib region. To cite the White Helmets organization, the ongoing and unresolved attacks on civilians in Syria perpetuate “an unending cycle of tragedy and despair”. It is imperative for the countries comprising the United Nations to respect the provisions Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and to address sanctions towards the Assad regime – and not inadvertently affecting innocent civilians – to make it accountable for its atrocities.