November 25, 2015

What is Russia doing in Syria?

The Russians say they're in Syria 'striking Isis'. Their actions tell a different story.

Yesterday a Russian jet was downed by the Turkish Government. As world powers flurry to respond, let’s take a look at what Russia has been doing in Syria. On the 30th of September, the Kremlin announced that the Russian air force would be ‘striking ISIS positions in Syria’. So how is that going?

They’re not [really] hitting Isis

85% of Russian strikes ‘against Isis’ have not hit Isis.

Instead they’re hitting opposition areas

In the roughly three-way war between Assad, the Rebels and Isis, Russia has decided to focus on fighting the Rebels, not Isis.

And killing civilians

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has reported that 526 civilians, including 137 children, have been killed in Russian strikes. In its first month, Russia’s “anti-Isis” strikes killed more civilians than the US-led anti-Isis strikes have in a year. In October, Russian strikes hit mosques, markets, a refugee camp, civilian homes and a school.

And attacking the White Helmets, medical workers and hospitals that help civilians

In October the Russians bombed hospitals at least ten times. These attacks are not accidents. Let’s take a look at one: on the 20th of October, warplanes hit Sarmin, Idlib with missiles. After the first strike, the warplanes stayed in the area and launched another strike targeting the medics and rescue workers who had rushed to the scene to rescue civilians — this ‘double-tap’ tactic is often used in regime aerial attacks. A physiotherapist, hospital guard and White Helmet were all killed.

With weapons that break international humanitarian law

Targeting hospitals or indiscriminately bombing civilian areas are both violations of International Humanitarian Law.

The Russians have also dropped white phosphorous from the air. White phosphorus can cause injuries and death in three ways: by burning deep into tissue, by being inhaled as a smoke and by being ingested. Extensive exposure by burning and ingestion is fatal. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has long held that the use of white phosphorous as a munition is a violation of the Chemical Weapon Convention of which Russia is a signatory. On the 12th of November in Benin in Idlib, the use of white phosphorus was captured on video.

Russia’s presence in Syria has little to do with fighting Isis and everything to do with propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

More international forces getting directly involved in the fighting on Syrian soil is complicating and prolonging the Syrian conflict whilst civilians continue to suffer. Any intervention in Syria should be aimed at reducing the bombs, not adding to them. That is why so many continue to appeal to the international community to stop the aerial attacks on civilians, with a no-fly zone if necessary.