Europe must stand with Turkey over Putin’s war crimes in Syria
By George Soros
Mar. 4, 2020
Since the beginning of its intervention in Syria in September 2015, Russia has not only sought to keep in place its most faithful Arab ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It has also wanted to regain the regional and global influence that it lost since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Vladimir Putin has sought to use the turmoil in the Middle East to erase international norms and advances in international humanitarian law made since the second world war. In fact, creating the humanitarian disaster that has turned almost 6m Syrians into refugees has not been a byproduct of the Russian president’s strategy in Syria. It has been one of his central goals.
I believe that Mr Assad is the most barbarous ruler that the world has seen since Joseph Stalin. When his own people rose up against him, he developed a military strategy designed to inflict the greatest possible harm on his civilian opponents. He deliberately targeted hospitals, schools and kindergartens, trying to kill or maim care givers. He has used poison gas and chemical attacks over the course of a conflict that has left more than half a million dead. Mr Putin has meanwhile provided him with the air power without which Mr Assad couldn’t have carried out his strategy.
In May 2019, Russia bombed four hospitals in 12 hours, as detailed by a New York Times investigation. As recently as February 26, 2020, according to the UN, 10 schools were targeted in a single day including kindergartens. Local health officials claim that, since the Syrian regime and its Russian ally launched the campaign to retake Idlib in April 2019, at least 49 medical facilities have been targeted. Another investigation suggests the number may be as high as 60.
Russia has also targeted at least 14 camps holding internally displaced persons during the conflict for Idlib. In recent weeks, attacks on camps near the Turkish border have multiplied, pushing hundreds of thousands of people in the direction of the Turkish border. This has panicked Ankara, prompting it to encourage the refugees already on its soil to head towards Europe. This, in turn, has triggered a refugee crisis at Turkey’s border with Greece.