How did aid to Aleppo fall hostage to geopolitics?
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The United Nations is no longer merely feeble in the face of the Syrian crisis; it is rather utterly paralyzed. It has no influence over the maneuvers of the Syrian regime and its opposition forces, nor those who back them, whether international and regional powers or armed militias.
On September 19, bombs hit a humanitarian aid convoy of 31 trucks in Uram al-Kubra, in northern Aleppo province. They also hit a Red Crescent clinic causing massive destruction and many casualties. The bombing was proof that efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis have hit a dead end throughout the foreseeable future. It showed that the international community has utterly failed even to ensure aid deliveries to desperate Syrians, notably in Aleppo, which has witnessed catastrophic destruction from military operations. Those paying the price are Syrian civilians who simply seek security, and whose suffering has exacerbated by the prevention of aid deliveries by international organizations.
The UN’s failure to protect and deliver aid to the Syrian people raises the question of how to reform the international body and the structure of the Security Council to tackle US-Russian rivalry. Moscow sees the Syrian crisis as a golden opportunity to regain its prestige, relying on veto as a key weapon. Therefore, it has worked to protect the Syrian regime from any international criticism, and blocked any moves towards a solution. Thus, the Security Council has massively deviated from its primary goal of maintaining global security. Both Moscow and Washington now prioritize protecting their allied regimes sharing their interests, even if those regimes violate the rights of their peoples.
As the concerns about the accusations that Russian or the Syrian regime bombed an aid convoy, it seems a logical step, especially given the failure of the secret American-Russian agreement on Syria after the Americans bombed a position of the Syrian army in Deir Ezzor on September 17, 2016. The Americans felt that the Russians were deceiving them. The bombing of the convoy ended the truce, and the violence returned to an even higher pitch. In short, this is a war between two great powers, United States and Russia, on Syrian territory. Both of which are targeting allied forces, while the United Nations is paralyzed.
Victims of geopolitics
The political bargaining between the various players in the Syrian crisis is manifested in the bombing of aid convoys and the blocking of aid deliveries. Opposition forces are facing enormous pressure due to the devastation of areas under their control.
The United States has supported some elements of the Syrian opposition and overseen their training, as well as allowed Turkey to rely on them in its war against Kurdish armed factions. Russia has retaliated for the bombing of a Syrian army position through placing pressure on US allies on the ground in Syria. This indicates that the battle for Aleppo will be crucial to the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and whoever wins will impose their conditions on any future negotiations.
Any negotiations between the two sides in Syria can be expected to fail, because the opposition will not back down from its primary condition that Bashar al-Assad must, at the very least, leave office and possibly face prosecution.
The Syrian regime will not offer any concessions, because that would imply an admission of guilt for its crimes over the past five years, providing a basis for prosecuting the President and senior military leaders. Certainly, none of the regime’s members would give themselves up unless defeated or forced to do so. That, in turn, will not happen as long as Russia supports the Syrian regime and holds on to Assad.
Moscow is prepared to fabricate anything to justify its behavior, using the fight against “terrorism” in Syria as a flimsy pretext for supporting the Assad regime militarily from within Syrian territory. That is on top of its political support in the fight against the international community, which sees Russia as a pariah.
When Moscow faced accusations of excessive use of force and war crimes at the emergency session of the Security Council on September 25, 2016 - convened at the request of the USA, Britain, and France to examine the escalation in Aleppo - it had few options but evasion and throwing counter-accusations.
Western powers’ condemnations against Russia for its barbaric actions made it lose its senses, prompting its ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin, to say that "achieving peace in Syria has become an almost impossible task." He ignored the fact that the Russian intervention in Syria was a principal factor prolonging the war and making it impossible to resolve. Every indication was that the Syrian regime was on the verge of collapse until Russia decided to send forces to support it on the battlefield.
The day following the emergency session, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Western countries are not fulfilling their commitments on Syria. Lavrov did not mention that the Syrian regime, with Russian support, continues to prevent the delivery of aid provided by Western and Arab states.
Despite evidence that the bombing of the aid convoy was carried out by the Russian air force, Lavrov said a detailed investigation had been carried out to determine who was responsible for the attack on the aid convoy. He said his country was innocent of the crime, which had prevented aid from reaching Aleppo and elsewhere. Lavrov further stated that Washington wants to set preconditions for a ceasefire agreement. The obvious conclusion is that the Syrian crisis has become a classic Russian-American proxy war and that bombing aid convoys have become part of the battle.
America backs down
When UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon asked, on September 25, “until when will everybody with any influence on the Syrian conflict continue this barbarity?” and called the 15 member states of the Security Council to “move decisively,” he realized that his words were empty.
Neither Russia will change its position and cease supporting the Syrian regime, nor the US administration, which has failed diplomatically and militarily to leave its imprint on the Syrian crisis, will be able to intervene decisively.
Moscow has become the sole player in the game on many levels, and the situation has reached the point where it takes decisions and speaks on behalf of the Syrian regime. The US approach has been conceding gradually, and the carpet is slowly being pulled from under its feet.
The Russian challenge to the US administration has reached the point where the Kremlin is condemning “unacceptable statements” by Washington and London, and criticizing the tone of comments by the American and British ambassadors towards Russia during the emergency meeting of the Security Council, while at the same time as Russian forces are bombing rebel-held districts of Aleppo.
Point of no return
It is a scandal that humanitarian aid has become a weapon used by permanent members of the Security Council to reveal their strength or the validity of their position. The targeting of aid, no matter by whom, is pre-meditated murder.
If the decision-makers with real influence in Syria put their states’ interests aside and allow for aid deliveries to take place on the ground, there would be some hope of saving the Syrian population in areas of the country not held by the regime. But dogmatism and insistence on positions regardless of whether they are right or wrong have caused the crisis to escalate to the point of no return.
The regime will not back down, nor the opposition will give up its weapons, nor is Russia ready to give up the gains it has made through the crisis, nor can the United States admit that Russia has beaten it and pre-empted every move it has made, as its interests dictate. The victims, of course, are the Syrian people. There is no sign that the future will be better unless the main players change their positions or become convinced of Secretary General Ban’s words, “The fate of Syria cannot depend on the future of one man.”