Will the jibe of ‘barbarism’ thwart hope?

United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power described Russia's actions in Aleppo as barbarism. Bryan R Smith / AFP
United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power described Russia's actions in Aleppo as barbarism. Bryan R Smith / AFP

We could debate the merits of United States ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power’s use of the term “barbarism” to describe Russia’s actions in Aleppo since the end of the latest ceasefire. However the bigger issue is that the war of words augurs poorly for a negotiated end to the real-life war that has blighted the lives of millions for more than five years.

The past few days have, by any measure, been some of the bloodiest of the entire conflict, which is why the United States, Britain and France called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the council that the Syrian government’s military offensive to retake eastern Aleppo was backed by Russia and involved the use of sophisticated weapons to target civilians – acts he described as potential war crimes. Scores of civilians in residential areas have been killed.

Russia is also suspected of involvement in air raids a week ago that destroyed at least 18 trucks in the 31-vehicle convoy trying to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians in Aleppo. Twelve Red Crescent volunteers and drivers were killed in the attack, which has also been identified as a potential war crime.

While the pessimists’ dour predictions for the ceasefire agreement were proven correct soon after it came into effect on September 12, this latest blamestorming in the Security Council is serious because it could affect future attempts to broker a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict and end the long nightmare for millions of civilians caught in the middle. Even if the US is justified in its claims about Russia – and it almost certainly is – it will be a pyrrhic victory if it poisons future efforts to resolve the conflict via dialogue rather than military might.

Politics, as the saying goes, is the art of the possible. Finding a solution that bridges the yawning gap between the national interests of the US, Russia and the other players in the Syrian conflict is without doubt a profound challenge but not an insuperable one. Even this latest brief and failed ceasefire agreement hinted at the unsavoury compromises that might follow in a successful cessation of hostilities, such as the tenure of Bashar Al Assad as Syria’s president. The enmity voiced in the Security Council might be wholly justified, but it puts the parties even further apart when the gap between them is already huge, making the prospect of a peace for the millions of innocents in Syria even more unlikely.

Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM

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