Whilst Russia and Syria cooperate with the United Nations over the rehoming of refugees uprooted by eight years of war, and work with Turkey and Iran to make progress on a political settlement that respects the sovereignty of Syria and the security of her neighbours, US imperialism is desperately trying to erect obstacles to the complete liberation of the country, fearing that the end of the war will hasten the irreversible waning of US influence in the region.
One such obstacle has been the Rukban refugee camp in the south-east of the country, on the border with Jordan and situated close to the US garrison and jihadi training ground of al-Tanf.
Rukban has been hell on earth for its overcrowded inhabitants, who lack food, medicine and basic sanitation and are vulnerable to recruitment by jihadi gangs. The camp is patrolled by US-backed rebel forces and falls within the effective zone of US occupation.
Attempts to get aid through to the camp were sabotaged by the US, which refused to provide security for convoys any closer than 10km from the camp. In practice, this would have meant dumping aid smack into an area controlled by jihadis, guaranteeing that the captive camp population would never get to see it – or only at an exorbitant price.
The only practical solution to the humanitarian crisis in the camp was to pull the rug out from under the islamist overlords by starting to evacuate. Predictably enough though, efforts by Syria and Russia to close down this camp and rehome its residents have been resisted by the US, which would much prefer to keep it festering as an open wound and its residents as hostages.
Undaunted, Syria and Russia established humanitarian corridors back in February to begin the work of evacuating civilians to safe areas where they could get medical attention before being resettled. By mid-June the Russian ministry of defence was able to report that 14,347 people, mostly women and children, had been successfully evacuated, and this difficult and sensitive work continues.
Throughout the country a similar pattern is emerging, with rehoming and reconstruction already showing the way to post-war Syria. According to the Russian reconciliation centre, 1,299,977 internally displaced persons went back to their homes between 30 September 2015 and 16 June 2019. Further, it noted that, since July 2018, “175 medical and 863 educational organisations have been recovered”. (US exceptionalism: exploiting certain Syrians, ignoring others by Eva Bartlett, RT, 19 June 2019)
Terrorists’ last stand at Idlib
Another temporary obstacle to Syria’s full liberation is the last-ditch stand being made by surviving terrorists holed up in the province of Idlib in the north-west of the country. The US hopes that this remaining thorn in Damascus’s side will suffice to distract it from settling accounts with (a) the direct US occupation of al-Tanf in the south-east, and (b) the proxy US occupation of the oil-rich north-east, care of the Kurdish ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF).
Back in August 2018, it seemed that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was on the point of sweeping into Idlib in a major offensive to clear out the last terror stronghold. However, at the last moment Russia and Turkey came to an agreement to set up a demilitarised zone in the province, jointly policed by the two countries, with a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry.
The aspiration was that, given this breathing space, Turkey would try to use its influence to separate the supposedly more ‘moderate’ jihadis from the outright al-Nusra headbangers, isolating the latter and opening the way to an outcome which could minimise civilian bloodshed. In practice, this pact was only ever a partial success, but it did have the signal virtue of drawing Turkey into limited collaboration with Russia, further loosening the bonds that had tied her to the US and firming up the diplomatic ground for a future political settlement not dictated by US interests.
Predictably enough (and almost certainly as predicted by the Kremlin), President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to separate the ‘moderate’ sheep from the ‘extremist’ goats were a conspicuous failure. Rather than becoming isolated, over the course of the next year the al-Nusra cut-throats (sired by al-Qaeda then rebranded as HTS) hoovered up most of the other gangs, eventually arriving at a position when they were emboldened to join forces and launch a serious offensive pushing south into Hama.
This violent assault in May came as the culmination of another bloody year of al-Nusra terrorising the home population and neighbouring provinces alike, perpetuating a non-stop humanitarian disaster to which the west turned a blind eye. This same self-imposed blindness persisted in the first week of May, as terrorist forces prepared a major offensive into Hama province, massing near the towns of Latamnah and Kafr-Zaita.
But the moment that the Syrian Arab Army moved to counter this real and present danger, on 11 May liberating five villages and advancing to the provincial border between Idlib and Hama, the west’s sight was miraculously restored. An emergency meeting of the UN security council was called and the US, with its faithful sidekicks in Paris and London chiming in concert, falsely pointed the finger of blame for the civilian suffering at the government’s door.
Contrary to the picture painted in the imperialist media, however, Syrian government forces and their Russian air cover have not in fact launched an indiscriminate frontal assault, but have been concentrating their operations on the perimeter of the Idlib governorate, with the strategic goal of reopening major highways through bandit country. Syria’s crack Tiger force, commanded by Brigadier General Suheil al-Hassan, have been leading operations, reportedly joined by Republican Guards and the SAA’s fourth division. (Stalled Idlib campaign shows limits of Syrian, Russian power, New York Times, 13 July 2019)
The imperialist media are uncertain how to report this, on the one hand clinging to the narrative that would paint President Bashar al-Assad as the stage villain, hell-bent on wanton massacre, and on the other hand contradicting themselves by portraying the Syrian army as weak and indecisive, incapable of pressing on to complete liberation.
What neither version of the disinformation war recognises is that neither Russia nor Syria view the liberation of Idlib in isolation from what best advances the liberation of the country as a whole. The timetable for the complete military and political liberation of the Syrian homeland will not be determined by the pundits of the New York Times, and the military progress of the SAA in Idlib and elsewhere cannot be measured in separation from the seismic diplomatic shifts that have been emerging in the course of the war, notably as relates to Turkey.
Back in August 2018, President Erdogan was climbing the wall at the prospect of an all-out military offensive in Idlib. By May 2019, whilst he still felt obliged to whinge a bit about a new Syrian offensive supposedly posing a “threat to the security” of Turkish observation posts, this mild reproof (intended for domestic consumption) was half-hearted, reflecting the degree to which Russia’s diplomatic engagement with Turkey (and the cold shower administered to Erdogan by his failure to isolate al-Nusra from the rest of the pack) had shifted Ankara’s working attitude towards Russia.
So much so, indeed, that by halfway through June, with the current offensive well underway, the Russian defence ministry was able to report that its fighter planes had conducted four air strikes in Idlib in response to a Turkish request for help in ensuring the safety of its troops!
After the troops came under fire from al-Nusra-linked terrorists, leaving three injured, the Turks sent the Russian air force the enemy’s coordinates. As a result of this collaboration, Russia was able to wipe out a substantial number of field artillery positions.
It is somewhat ironical to note that the Turks who came under terrorist attack were hunkered down in one of those same observation posts whose security Ankara had feared would be threatened by the Syrian army’s offensive! (Russian air force targets militants in Syria’s Idlib at request of Turkish military, RT, 13 June 2019)
Russian achievements in the war
In a recent interview, Russian president Vladimir Putin explained that Russia’s initial goal in getting militarily involved in Syria was to prevent another “Libya-style chaos” from erupting on its doorstep.
Reviewing the progress of the war, he suggested that Russia’s intervention had not only resulted in the defeat of Isis and the stabilisation of Syria itself, but had also helped to move the whole region towards stability. Choosing his words with care, he noted in this context that Russia had forged “very good, business-like, partner-like and largely allied relations” with other regional powers like Iran and Turkey.
At the annual question-and-answer session, President Putin maintained that, whilst Turkey and Iran have been Russia’s immediate partners in dealing with the Syrian crisis, other countries have “legitimate interests” in what happens in Syria, including the US, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Europe.
Rather than signalling some shabby ‘grand deal’ with imperialism, what Putin is confidently asserting here is the pivotal role now occupied by Moscow in the whole middle east region, occupying the diplomatic centre of gravity once seen as the exclusive preserve of the US.
Those who choose to interpret Putin’s words otherwise will get short shrift. At the same Q&A session, a journalist asked if there would be a “grand deal” with the US on Syria. The president’s response was succinct: “What do you mean ‘a grand deal’? Sounds like some commercial act. No. We don’t sell out our allies, our interests or our principles.” (Russia accomplished more than it expected in Syria – Putin, RT, 27 June 2019)
One clear index of the diplomatic clout that has accrued to the Russian Federation, earned by Russia as a result of actions consistently upholding international law, can be seen in the way that the UN now looks instinctively to Russia and the Syrian government when it comes to enlisting help for practical steps like helping to organise the mass rehoming of refugees.
In recent talks with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, sought Russia’s assistance in efforts to stabilise the situation in Idlib and to collaborate over drafting Syria’s new constitution. (UN envoy for Syria Pedersen meets Lavrov, urges Russia to help stabilise Idlib, RT, 5 July 2019)
And the UN’s high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), Mohamed Amin Awad Abubakir, recently announced that he is working to clear away obstacles to the safe return home of refugees, “including through discussing a legal framework with the government of Syria, addressing gaps in civil documentation and legal status, while expanding operations and humanitarian programmes in places of return”.
Whilst the US can be relied on to carry on using the UN as a megaphone for slandering Syria and her allies, it is to Russia and Syria that the UN turns when it is a question of problem-solving and reconciliation on the ground. (UN cooperates with Russia, Syria on safe return of refugees – regional coordinator, Tass, 1 July 2019)
When US imperialism first orchestrated its proxy war of subversion against the independent and progressive country of Syria, it was with the intention of shoring up US hegemony in the middle east. Eight years on, it has demonstrably achieved exactly the opposite, thanks to the steadfast resistance of the Syrian people and the fraternal support of Syria’s allies. It is too late to wind the clock back now.
Victory to the Syrian president, government, army and people!