The regime of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, is steamrolling Ghouta day after day. The situation appears similar to the Aleppo siege, which ended by the end of 2016 with the evacuation of the last standing rebels with their families in the snow. The direction of those who fled Aleppo was Idlib. Air strikes, artillery shelling, chemical weapons, starvation and much more was resorted to in order to crush East Aleppo’s rebellion.
The suburbs of Damascus are witnessing the same awful humanitarian crisis. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced developments in Eastern Ghouta and described people’s plight there as ‘hell on earth’. The UN once again finds itself paralyzed in terms of taking action. All it can do is issue statements. The first lesson here is that developments in Ghouta once again reflect the failure of the UN’s “humanitarian diplomacy” that’s reduced to mere incantations.
The UN once again finds itself paralyzed in terms of taking action. All it can do is issue statements. The first lesson here is that developments in Ghouta once again reflect the failure of the UN’s “humanitarian diplomacy”Christian Chesnot
Diplomacy of surrender
The ‘diplomacy of surrender’ reigns once again - this time in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Syrian regime’s aim is to empty Ghouta of its people to better isolate the armed groups and their families. By the end, buses will wait for them to take them to Idlib, Syria’s last-held rebel province.
The second lesson here is that the West is out of the game and they have no bargaining chip to really influence the crisis. For the United States and Europeans, the fall of Ghouta will resemble a political and moral loss. After this horrifying chapter, Bashar al-Assad will become the master of Damascus once again. Such a triumph will also close any room for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict. In any case, this is what Michel Duclos, France’s former ambassador to Damascus, thinks. How can it be conceived that the Syrian regime will suddenly be possessed by a desire to negotiate a political transition?
What after the collapse of Ghouta?
The expected collapse of Ghouta will conclude a chapter of the war in Syria. Assad now controls all the major cities. The opposition and the rebels are being pushed outside Syria and to the country’s outskirts. The opposition is also about to endeavor a long journey in the desert. The reality is cruel and the challenges they face are huge. They have failed to unite in order to topple the regime in 2011-2012. The opportunity will not represent itself anytime soon. They need to review their plans from A to Z.
So what does the future hold for Syria after the fall of Ghouta? It certainly revolves around chaotic reconstruction and a long journey of daily agony for the Syrians. But perhaps this is when the Syrians demand accountability. We must not forget that Assad survived and remained president mainly thanks to Russia, Iran and the Lebanese party Hezbollah, as they all united just in time to support his regime. However, will these allies remain partners when the situation calms down? Everyone has his own agenda in Syria.
As the Russians have previously stated, they are not “married” to Bashar al-Assad. Moscow is only interested in its geopolitical interests and the sustenance of the state structure. As long as they have not found an alternative for the Syrian president, they will keep protecting the regime. They also know that Bashar al-Assad’s term ends in 2021. Perhaps that’s when the political transition will begin. In the meantime, the Syrian people will have to grit their teeth.
Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.