Why Russia’s Presence in Syria Should Have Prepared Us for Ukraine

Image via Al-Jazeera

Image via Al-Jazeera

Jack Thompson, Journalist

In Kyiv, air-raid sirens blare and gunshots ring throughout the city. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has drawn international attention and condemnation, and has managed to unite most of the world against Russia (excluding the U.S.—we all know we can’t agree on anything). However, there are shades of something familiar in this invasion. The brutality of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria was directly backed up by Russian forces for the last few years. In Idlib province of Syria, bombing of civilian infrastructure such as schools, refugee camps and hospitals is a common practice. So why are we now surprised by the brutality shown by Putin’s forces in Ukraine, and how can the civilians of Idlib give us legitimate hope?

Before going any further, it should be noted that Idlib province has started to fall under control of terrorist cells such as Hayat Tahir al-Sham (HTS) and to a lesser extent Al Qaeda. When referring to the “people of Idlib”, we simply mean the civilians who have been trapped in between Bashar Al-Assad and a closed Turkish border. In the 2010s, the Arab Spring protests rocked the middle east. After a crackdown on protests against Bashar Al-Assad turned violent, a civil war started up between the government forces and loosely connected rebel groups throughout the country. As this war progressed, Syria’s ally Russia became involved after a plea for military support from the Al-Assad regime. After Russian forces arrived, the war quickly turned into a slaughter which pushed the rebels back to Idlib province, situated directly south of the Turkish border. Pro-rebel families fled alongside rebel forces, as Russian pilots bombed the fleeing caravans of civilians. These attacks were the world’s first look at the Russian military’s willingness to attack civilians. However, this garnered the equivalent of a yawn from western nations.

Now, fast forward to 2022 and Vladimir Putin decides Ukraine has existed long enough. At first, the mere thought of war in the 21st century was terrifying. But about a day later, the news of Russian shelling of Ukrainian infrastructure came out. Captivating videos show Ukrainian civilians headed to bomb shelters as air-raid sirens blair. Recently, a bomb shelter in a theatre with “дети”, the Russian word for children painted on the street in front of it. Again, the west reacted with horror and disgust. But this is all very familiar. Russian brutality was on full display in Syria and has been for years. Adding to this, an Al-Jazeera story depicts an Idlib that is standing in solidarity with Ukraine alongside the rest of the world. This leads to the question of, where was the economic aid and anger at Russian aggression in Syria? A striking image of a pro-Ukraine mural painted on a shelled building in Idlib seems to tell a clear story. We are okay with wars so long as they are not close to us in the west. People dodging Russian missiles in this region of the world have been seriously impacted yet overlooked.