Last week we took a brief overview look at the continuing civil war in Syria and the effect that Russian support had on the struggle. With 50,000 to 60,000 citizens killed and a continuing capacity to destabilize the Middle East, the world needs to worry about Syria.
Russia appears to be going through a continual spasm as Vladimir Putin pushes not only for dominance but also to bend the elite to fit the national mood of the country. Recent decisions by the Duma (the lower house of the Parliament) passed undebated legislation to tighten the state’s control over dissent and political activism. The January 14, edition of The New York Times reports that Putin has made strengthening Russia’s sovereignty his priority. Halting the adoption of the thousands of Russian children needing homes abroad is an example of how ruthless these decisions can be. Protestors filled Moscow’s streets.
As has been the case in Syria, it also reflects how wrong Russia can be.
The world of Syrian refugees continues to reflect the incredible hardship war has visited on the survivors. In Zaatar, Jordan, floods washed through refugee tents and left boggy, muddy trails through the camps. As winter approaches, many of the refugees fear for their survival. In these desert camps that crowd 50,000 people into nine square miles, normal is somewhere between horrible and inhumane.
International talks between Russian and the United States in Geneva, Switzerland expressed a mutual agreement that the war should end, but little else. At the United Nations Russia and China continue to block resolutions to pressure President Bashar Assad to leave. The United States can not envision how a new transitional government could be created if Assad is a part of it. While the diplomats argue, the combatants continue to kill each other.
Syrian troops advanced in a strategic suburb of Damascus, attempting to secure Assad’s seat of power in the capital. At the same time, rebels made advances in the north. The government announced recapturing much of Daraya, an area surrounding a major military air base just south of the capital. A day earlier the rebels took control of the northwest Taftanaz air base in a blow to the military. It is not easy to tell what this tit-for-tat exchange actually means. Often such announcements turn out to be propaganda. It is clear that one of the rebels most effective fighting units s is the Jabhat al-Nusra arm of al-Qaida. Not a good sign for the future!
In an unusual move, the rebels freed and swapped 48 Iranian prisoners for 2,000 prisoners held by the government. This number included women and children. The deal was brokered by Qatar, Iran, and Turkey. No one is certain why Syria agreed, but it may have been because of pressure applied from Tehran, Assad’s remaining major ally. Iran denied they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and claimed they were pilgrims to Shiite religious shrines in Syria. Such an explanation is of the order of explaining American troops are in Afghanistan looking for Santa Claus and the North Pole.
The civil war goes on and the death toll continues to rise. The United Nations appears completely inept. Can it get much worse? Yeah, it can.