In the week since Russia’s invasion began, Syrians opposed to President Bashar al-Assad might come second only to Ukrainians themselves in following every horror of the war that Vladimir Putin’s regime is waging in Ukraine. The reason behind this curious situation, of course, should be quite apparent. Russia has been occupying part of Syria since late September 2015, brutally supporting Assad’s regime, whose highest priority is to stay in power forever, even if he has to submit the country to expansionist outside forces like Iran and Russia itself.
For six and a half years, Russia has held a major military base in northwestern Syria, called Hmeimim, to which Assad is usually summoned when Putin or his defense minister visit their troops there. In 2019, Russia secured a 49-year lease for the port of Tartous, where it can now base warships in the Mediterranean. Russia’s defense minister has boasted of successfully testing more than 320 different weapons from its military arsenal in Syria. Putin himself praised the combat experience that more than 85 percent of the Russian army’s commanders gained in Syria.
Syria was a testing ground for Russia’s military. It used phosphorus munitions, thermobaric bombs and cluster bombs—banned by international treaty—against civilian facilities, targeting hospitals, schools and markets. It labeled all those who opposed the Assad regime as terrorists (just like Assad did too). This simply means that their lives are ungrievable; that killing them is not a crime. It is even a good thing that should be rewarded, at least with praise. Indeed, Putin was praised by Islamophobic right-wing organizations in the West, and supporters of authoritarianism everywhere, for his imperialist war in Syria, responsible so far for killing some 23,000 civilians.
Yet there have hardly been enough voices in the West condemning Putin’s war in Syria. Why? Because of the long and criminal “war on terror,” which has been the basis of a broad international coalition against terrorists—that is, nihilist Sunni Islamic groups—where the United States and the European Union are in a de facto alliance with Russia, as well as the likes of Assad, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Zayed, and of course the apartheid state of Israel. This has not just been a betrayal of Syrians who have been struggling for democracy for two generations, but a betrayal of democracy everywhere in the world. [Continue reading…]