Sanctions regime against Syria: Instead of a change of strategy, tactical rhetorics of Western diplomacyAktham Suliman
The voice on the other end of the telephone line sounds as if from another world: the father’s body was bent over the girl like a protective tent, the mother’s over the boy.
The two-year-old twin siblings were rescued from under the rubble after three days and were fine, except for their father and mother. “Do you know what that means in a country where even with parents you hardly have a future?” the trembling voice adds. A story from the Syrian Mediterranean city of Latakia; one of many repeated from Idlib to Hamah, Homs and Aleppo – the more often without survivors.
On social media, too, Syrians have known only grief and despair in recent days. “All my family members are dead. Unlike me, they are fine now,” wrote a survivor from Aleppo, alluding to the unworthy lives of most Syrians after more than a decade of war and sanctions.
The earthquake seems to have united most Syrians – at least for the moment and at least emotionally – beyond all political differences in pain, regardless of whether they live in areas controlled by the government, Turkey, the Kurds or even al-Qaeda. An understandable reaction in the face of death.
Something has changed. But: nothing new in the West. Already at the beginning of the week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock demanded the opening of all border crossings – currently there is only one open border crossing – between Syria and Turkey, so that the people in northwestern Syria receive help. For this, she said, Russia must use its influence on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A successful PR side blow in the direction of Damascus and Moscow in times of the Ukraine war. But humanitarian aid is needed everywhere in the country, not just in the “rebel areas” in the northwest.
Because, unlike Baerbock, the earthquake waves did not stop at the lines between anti- and pro-Assad areas. But Baerbock followed up just two days later. Asked specifically about the unilateral EU and U.S. economic sanctions against Syria, which the UN says make it difficult to import aid and technical equipment throughout the country, Baerbock said in an interview with WDR on Thursday that the difficulties in the supply situation were not because “we can’t get excavators across the borders, but because the Syrian regime is not opening that border.” Another PR tactic: I would like to help, but the other side is not allowing any help to come through.
Representatives of other Western countries, above all the United States, are currently expressing similar sentiments: business as usual, and if public pressure becomes too great in view of the dramatic images from the earthquake region, then a few concessions are made half-heartedly. The U.S. Treasury Department, according to a report on Friday morning, has cleared the way for emergency aid for the earthquake region in Syria.
Special authorization for six months had been granted for this purpose. The message for the public: something is being done, special permission for a special situation, as if aid had not been provided. An earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale with thousands of dead and injured, not to mention the destruction, should cause the West to fundamentally rethink economic sanctions, not special, partial and time-limited measures or PR campaigns.
A rethink would not bring the parents of the twins in Latakia back to life; but for the children, it would be the hint of a chance of survival, even beyond the next six months.
Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.