Four years in Syria: what Russian Aerospace Forces have achieved in the Near East
How Moscow helped Damascus free the country from rebels. Anhar Kochneva’s column
Russia officially joined the war in Syria on 30 September 2015. Today the bandits are retreating almost without a fight, infrastructure on liberated territories is restored, refugees are coming back to the country — this is the sum-up of the four-year stay of the Russian military forces. As Realnoe Vremya said, a school restored with the help of Tatarstan Muslims opened its doors in the northeast of Damascus. In today’s column in Realnoe Vremya, journalist Anhar Kochneva residing in Syria talks about how Moscow has supported Bashar Assad’s government for four years and what it has brought to.
Russia had been expected for years
30 September was the fourth anniversary of the official involvement of Russian Aerospace Forces in the conflict that has been flaring in Syria since 2011. To tell the truth, Russian militaries had been expected in Syria many years ago when the conflict was just about to break out, and with correct tactics, it could have been resolved before it destroyed millions of fates of common Syrians and claimed lives of at least 2 million people. However, my evaluation of losses is subjective: there is no official data about casualties yet. And those numbers reported from UN and similar organisations’ rostrums contain only data the “opposition” and don’t include people who were killed, stolen and dead in terrorist attacks staged by the “opposition” itself.
Many wrongly assume that if the Russian army hadn’t joined this war, the Syrians themselves would have achieved nothing during these years, and before the appearance of Russian planes in the region, the Syrian army did nothing but retreated. However, such claims and assumptions don’t comply with reality. The thing is that those who think so didn’t stay tuned for what had been happening in Syria before autumn 2015. And by this time, the Syrian army had already liberated some important settlements and regions of the country.
Achievements of the Syrian army
For instance, the rebels were removed from the famous town of Maaloula where some residents still use the Aramaic language in their everyday life. Moreover, as specialists think, it is the dialect very Christ spoke. As a result of vandalism and military actions, two key landmarks of the town have suffered — the ancient Saint Thelka Monastery and Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus. However, even despite financial hardships, the restoration works in the monasteries are already in progress.
The borderline town of Kessab (near the border with Turkey) populated mainly by Armenians, vast territories adjacent to the Syrian-Lebanese border (including the enclave I was in captivity in the winter 2012/2013) were also liberated. In this region, detachments of the Lebanese party Hezbollah, which helped not only Syrians but also took the rebels away from Lebanon’s borders, helped the Syrians.
A UNESCO World Heritage List site the crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, which was assaulted by the rebels and affected during their retreat, was also liberated. After talks, the rebels were taken from the centre of Homs, some Damascus suburbs and a big number of villages and towns nobody has ever heard of in Russia. In most cases, it was tough victories that claimed a lot of lives of Syrian soldiers. But they did exist.
We should note that most residents of Russia don’t understand yet how those enclaves of rebels who militaries have been eradicating during these years appeared on the territory of Syria. And they think that they appeared because of unskilful and unprofessional actions of the Syrian army, which has nothing to do with reality: Syria was just forced to remove security workers from a big number of settlements, under threat of the so-called “humanitarian bombings”. Now-deceased Kofi Annan’s famous plan was the culprit: despite analysts’ warnings, the UN managed to lobby this clause of the plan, which forced the government of the country to withdraw the army and police. And these settlements instantaneously turned out in the rebels' clutches. Moreover, together with the civilians living there.
As witnesses said, they woke up in the morning amid chaos: bandits were disposing of the undesirable, killing both in homes and streets. The killed people’s bodies weren’t allowed to be removed and buried. Later Syrians “pulled” the civilians out of these enclaves with a lot of effort by freeing people who were in fact arrestees in their own homes: no freedom of movement outside the enclaves. The rebels controlled all products that arrived from humanitarian organisations.
In severe Syrian winters, people got neither firewood nor fuel for heating. They couldn't purchase medication, clothes and other goods they needed. They couldn’t study and work. And it was impossible to liberate such districts with military methods due to a big amount of civilians there out of humanitarian considerations.
The tactics of exchange of humanitarian aid for rebels and their families for people wishing to leave the enclaves took much time. People were withdrawn in groups, some managed to escape on their own or go out offering a bribe. In the end, the rebels who were devoid of resources and the “live shield” were inclined to think of leaving the enclaves more and more. Those who had never soiled their hands with blood got a chance of amnesty and go back to normal life. And the most rabid criminals got an opportunity to evacuate to Idlib where a big number of different bandits had already gathered by that time.
With the appearance of militaries from Russia in Syria, the process of liberation of such enclaves accelerated. In most cases, there was no military action: the bandits understood themselves that they could face the opponents who exceeded them in power and equipment manifold and went away to avoid a direct clash. And in places where there was shown resistance, the outcomes of battles were quite predictable.
The aid with the use of modern-day aviation was especially helpful: the planes of the Syrian army that got obsolete a long time ago, for instance, they couldn’t be used at night. And the precision their attack left a lot to be desired. In the end, the Syrians couldn’t send soldiers and ground equipment to the most remote part of bandits’ enclaves because these enclaves are blocked not only by the army on their side but the rebels on their side. And it wasn’t possible to use aviation remotely due to its technical imperfection. Moreover, without doubt, the Syrian army’s losses and the soldiers’ tiredness many of whom had been fighting since the 2011-2012s made an impact.
Over the years, as a result of the cooperation of the two armies as well as help of other allies of Syria, there were liberated districts where anarchy and outrage had been dragging on for years. A huge amount of people regained freedom of movement. Others managed to go back home and stopped looking for shelter.
Infrastructure and production are restored on the liberated territories. A lot of children, teenagers and youngsters again got the opportunity to study they had been taken away. The army had several long-awaited demobilisations. People whose lives the war entered eight years ago managed to survive and began to pick up the pieces of their broken fates. Without Russia’s help, this moment would have come much later.