Ahmad Rakan has been following news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from a tent in a rebel-held area of Syria. During a months-long Syrian government onslaught supported by Moscow’s weaponry that forced him and tens of thousands of others from their homes, a Russian aircraft destroyed his house in a nearby hamlet.
“We more than anyone else feel their pain,” he said Russian airstrikes are now targeting Ukrainian people.
Syrians like Rakan have seen Russia’s military strength up close over the last seven years, as it bombed opposition strongholds, orchestrated mass surrender agreements, and installed military police across the nation, effectively turning Syria into a Russian protectorate on the Mediterranean.
According to observers, Vladimir Putin was encouraged by Russia’s aggressive military action in Syria and the impunity with which it was received. They claim it offered him a resurgent Middle East footing from which he could establish Russian authority across the world, as well as paving the path for his war on Ukraine.
“There is no doubt that the Russian intervention in Ukraine is an accumulation of a series of Russian military interventions in Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014, and Syria in 2015,” said Ibrahim Hamidi.
At the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, he is a Syrian journalist and senior diplomatic editor for Syrian issues.
Putin “believes that America is regressing and China’s role is increasing and Europe is divided and preoccupied with its internal concerns … so he decided to intervene,” he said.
Moscow’s decision to enter the Syrian civil war in 2015 marked the country’s first military intervention outside of the former Soviet Union since the federation’s disintegration. It saved President Bashar Assad’s regime and shifted the war’s tide in his favor, allowing him to reclaim control of most of Syria ruthlessly. Hospitals, schools, and marketplaces are frequently targeted by Russian aircraft.
The war-torn nation has served as a testbed for Russian weaponry and tactics that it may now deploy in Ukraine.
Russia used a “multi-domain” approach in Syria, according to Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute who focuses on Russia’s Middle East policy. This included long-range precision weapons and large-scale bombing campaigns, as well as cyber warfare, disinformation, and the use of paramilitary forces.
It is deploying its air force “has come to define Russia’s evolving way of war and Syria was an especially important illustration of this development,” she said.
In Syria, Moscow used deft diplomatic maneuvering to forge deals with the West that imposed an implied endorsement of its participation. To enforce truces in some places, it formed combined patrols with NATO member Turkey, which backed Syrian rebels. It reached agreements with Israel that permitted the latter to conduct airstrikes in Syria against Iran-linked sites. It established a so-called deconfliction line with the US in order to avoid collisions between American and Russian planes flying over Syria.
Simultaneously, it attempted to defend Assad on the world stage, denouncing Assad’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs on people as fabrications. Russia has launched a soft power campaign in Syria. Festivals to spread Russian culture were held in some localities, Russian national anthems were broadcast on Syrian television, self-serving propaganda was churned out, and hot meals were supplied to citizens.
Max, a dual Syrian-Ukrainian national from Latakia on Syria’s coast, recalls working as a social media troll for a week spreading the “facts” about Russia’s constructive efforts in Syria. He and other Russian-speaking Syrians worked out of a nearby university’s office.
He stated he and others in his village were grateful when Russia engaged militarily in 2015, especially because Islamic militants were nearing the area. He is a member of Assad’s Alawite governing group.
“Then the Russians arrived, and the front line was pushed well back,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Ukraine, where he is currently staying in an Airbnb in a residential district of Kyiv.
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Max had traveled to Ukraine to renew his personal paperwork when he was stranded there by Russia’s invasion. He currently works for an international organization in Lebanon. For his safety, he agreed to speak on the condition that his full name not be revealed.
Max is no longer a believer in the Russian story. Many in his birthplace of Syria, on the other hand, applaud Russia’s war in Ukraine, as Moscow continues to spread lies about its invasion.
Images from Ukraine, notably the tragic mass exodus of people, are evoking strong and contradictory feelings among Syrians at home and refugees throughout the world.
The northwest region of Idlib, Syria’s last opposition-held bastion, is the epicenter of resentment, with Russian bombings continuing to this day. The opposition’s civil defense organization, known as the White Helmets, issued a statement on Monday condemning Russia’s assault against Ukraine.
“It pains us immensely to know that the weapons tested on Syrians will now be used against Ukrainian civilians,” it said, It expressed disappointment with the international community’s lack of cooperation in holding Russia accountable in Syria and elsewhere.
“Instead of standing up for international norms, such as those against the use of chemical weapons, the international community has tried to find ways to cooperate with Russia and to this day considers Russia a willing and essential partner in diplomacy,” it said.
It expressed disappointment with the international community’s lack of cooperation in holding Russia accountable in Syria and elsewhere.
“Appetite comes with eating, and with each intervention he has grown increasingly more brazen, culminating in the tragedy we now see unfolding in Ukraine,” she said. “Just as what happened in Syria did not end in Syria, what is happening in Ukraine will not end in Ukraine.”
“Maybe they (Ukrainians) can achieve the victory that was not achieved in Syria.”