Ukraine’s aim of 18 June conference
It’s long past time for Syrians and Ukrainians to unite to stop the wars in their countries and work more closely together to persuade the rest of the world to put greater pressure on Russia, the imperial power which has caused so much death and destruction in these two dismembered nations. That’s one goal of the Kyiv Post’s 18 June conference “Stopping Russian Aggression in Syria & Ukraine”.
The newspaper’s heightened interest in Syria certainly owes to the 21 March purchase of the newspaper by Odesa businessman Adnan Kivan, a Syrian native who wants to see the day when Bashar al-Assad no longer rules, the war in his homeland over, and millions of refugees living abroad return to rebuild a democratic society. While Kivan has provided the impetus, the connection between Russia’s aims in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere have been there all along to those who examine it.
Those ties, for example, feature prominently in historian and best-selling author Timothy D. Snyder’s latest book, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. What’s On readers intimately know the aim of Russia’s war against Ukraine – it’s part of a centuries-long refusal to acknowledge Ukraine as an independent nation. The Kremlin’s aim in supporting the Syrian dictator al-Assad is similarly evil.
Vladimir Putin, unable to make Russia great or bring the Soviet Union back to life, has decided to make his nation feared as he strives to weaken democracies in the West, namely Europe and America, and position himself as a key Middle East player.
How does Putin use Syria to accomplish these malevolent goals? “Russia would bomb Syria to generate refugees, then encourage Europe to panic,” Snyder writes. “Russian aircraft dropped non-precision (“dumb”) bombs from high altitudes. Even if the targets had been military, non-precision bombing would have guaranteed more destruction and more refugees making their way to Europe. But Russia was not generally targeting ISIS bases. Human rights organisations reported the Russian bombing of mosques, clinics, hospitals, refugee camps, water treatment plants, and cities in general.”
One of the Kremlin’s goals in all this destruction, Snyder writes, was to weaken German Chancellor Angela Merkel politically. Besides succeeding, far-right, anti-immigration, anti-refugee, and anti-European Union political forces gained strength in Europe.
“The Russian response was in effect to say: if Merkel wants refugees, we will provide them, and use the issue to destroy her government and German democracy,” Snyder writes. Besides military force, the Russian strategy also deploys the same kind of lies and disinformation as in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Uniting Syrians and Ukrainians is no easy task. Millions of both are living outside their countries. And the nature, scale and complexity of the two wars are vastly different. Syria is undergoing a seven-year civil war in which not only Russia is taking al-Assad’s side, other forces are intervening on various sides, including Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Kurds, the United States, Great Britain, France and Islamic fighters. By contrast, Ukraine’s war is all Russia’s making. Launched in 2014 with the military invasion and annexation of Crimea, it followed by the war in eastern Donbas, after the EuroMaidan Revolution drove Kremlin-backed Viktor Yanukovych from power.
At least 700 000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, but no one knows for sure because the United Nations has stopped counting. This compares to 10 300 killed in Ukraine’s war. The common denominator is that most of the casualties are civilians. War crimes abound in both conflicts, but al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons is the most horrendous.
Syria’s population might have dropped from 25 million to 18 million, with as many as seven million refugees now living in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Germany, and elsewhere. Ukraine’s displaced population is estimated at 1.5 million, with a population of 42 million people.
What is happening in both nations is heartbreaking. But there is little time for sadness or reflection. Action is urgently needed against the common enemy. And the 18 June conference is one of the Kyiv Post’s contributions to this worthy effort.
Brian Bonner is the chief editor of the Kyiv Post
The Kyiv Post conference, Stopping Russian Aggression in Syria & Ukraine, is free and open to the public. Register online at the Kyiv Post website to reserve seating.