Saturday, July 2, 2022
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Damascus
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Opinion | Syria and Ukraine: Two sides of a Putin coin

Smoke rising after shelling in Kyiv; credit: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Next month will mark the 11th anniversary of the start of the Syrian Revolution and Assad and Putin continue their reign of terror on civilians in Syria unchecked. Not many in the West paid much attention when Putin sent his newest high-tech weapons to be tested on Syrian men, women, and children in 2015 in order to protect Assad’s presidency thus ensuring the continuation of Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. And now those weapons are being deployed in Ukraine as Putin begins his expansion into Europe after creating his own pretext for war. And the question begging to be asked is “Who will be able to stop him?”

I will say that I am in awe of the defiant stance of the Ukrainian people and their democratically-elected government leaders, just as I was in awe of the Syrians who stood up to the regime’s tanks in the early days of the revolution as well as the people of Turkey who took to the streets en masse and managed to thwart an attempted coup in July 2016.  But will courage be enough to stop a well-armed Russian Army with its tanks and ballistic missiles if they don’t receive any outside help?

Russia has already proven the impotence of the UN Security Council’s ability to avert aggression if the aggression serves to further Putin’s agenda. Every effort to assist the people of Syria in defending themselves against a brutal oppressor was simply an exercise in futility due to Russia’s exercising its irrevocable veto power. And now they are making the same immoral chess move to protect their own incursion into Ukraine. If the status quo doesn’t change, then what can the world do to stop him from doing anything he sets his mind to do?

So far, the only real moves by the West have come in the form of sanctions; but how effective will sanctions really be in deterring an arrogant autocrat with ambitions when he has huge reserves of oil and gas and the financial support of China in his back pocket. So where do the champions of democracy go from here?

Some frustrated Syrian activists have been criticizing President Biden for putting more focus on stopping Putin’s attack on Ukraine than on trying to stop Russia from dropping bombs in Syria, but there is a major difference between Russian involvement in Syria and its invasion of Ukraine. Assad invited Russia to intervene in his war against his own people and there has been a joint defense agreement between the two countries since Bashar’s father, Hafez, allowed the Soviet Union to build a naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea in 1971.

As chemical weapon expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon stated in The Guardian on Thursday, “We can rest assured that the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, unlike Assad, is not welcoming Putin with open arms. But in responding to the Ukraine emergency, there are lessons the west can and should learn from the situation in Syria.”

Bretton-Gordon points out that Syria’s Assad is now nothing more than a Putin puppet in a Russian proxy state that “now represents a major Russian and Iranian presence on the edge of Europe; and if Ukraine also falls, the balance of power will very much shift eastwards… I cannot think that a few sanctions on a few banks and billionaires is going to perturb Putin. He only understands strength and power – it’s time to show our steel.”

When the revolution began in Syria, many Americans were understandably war-weary and didn’t want to get involved in another war in the Middle East. Some had the opinion that problems over there didn’t affect us, and we should mind our own business. But the world’s apathy towards what was happening in Syria only served to embolden Putin’s pursuit of his own ambitions; and if he succeeds in Ukraine, it’s for sure he won’t stop there. Are we complacent enough to sit back and let Putin succeed in his mission to become the next dominant world power?

Ruthanne Sikora
Ruthanne Sikora
Ruthanne Sikora is a full-time caregiver for her differently-abled daughter Lauren, human rights activist, Global Studies student, part-time writer and English editor.

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