Sunday, March 26, 2017

Grim Anniversaries in Syria and Ukraine

            The sixth anniversary of the Syrian civil war was last week.  Of the nearly half-million dead in the rebellion against the Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad since 2011, 200,000 civilians have been killed.  They have overwhelmingly been killed by the Assad regime.  Syria’s allies, which include Iran, Hezbollah and
Russia, have added to the civilian death toll.  The Syrian dictatorship and its allies deliberately target civilians, such as the Russian bombing of hospitals.  The Assad regime even uses chemical weapons against civilians.  The Syrian civil war has caused the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

            The rebels include moderate Sunni Arab Muslims who oppose dictatorship, as well as Kurds.  The rebels are backed to a slight degree by an American-led coalition.  Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other violent jihadis have taken advantage of the chaos and lack of adequate support for the non-Islamist rebels. 

Syria’s Assad regime is a state sponsor of terrorism and is Iran’s best ally.  Russia has a base on Syria’s coast. 

            The third Anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea was also last week.  Russia seized the territory in 2014 through a covert invasion and a hasty plebiscite conducted without a legitimate campaign after suppressing freedoms and under the duress of Russian arms.  The invasion and annexation, which is not internationally recognized, was in violation of the Russian Federation’s treaty with Ukraine, in which the former agreed to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.  As in Russia itself, there have been numerous human rights violations in Crimea committed by the Russians. 

In addition to Russians, Crimea was inhabited by Tatars, who are a Turkic people, and Ukrainians.  The Black Sea peninsula had been part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire before being conquered by the Russian Empire and colonized.

Economic sanctions have been imposed by the United States and European Union, among others, on Russia, but there is pressure to lift them, despite no improvement in Russian behavior.  

The Russians, who are led by an ex-KGB dictator, have also been backing pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, whom they have supported by covert invasion, as in Crimea, with the goal of seizing the territory from UkraineRussia has recently stepped up its offensive operations in Ukraine.

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