Damascus risks enduring the most immediate consequences of the new Cold War
Damascus risks enduring the most immediate consequences of the new Cold War

PARIS — Will Syrians pay for the Ukrainians? Will the millions of victims of a protracted and bloody conflict in Syria suffer the backlashes of the situation playing out in Ukraine? Sadly, the answer is yes.

Posed in these simplistic terms, the question might seem odd. But in reality, the growing hostility between Moscow and Washington over the events unfolding in Kiev and on the Crimean peninsula will have consequences elsewhere.

After Sunday's pre-ordained result of the Crimean referendum that calls for the region to pass from Ukraine to Russia, Washington is sure to respond with more sanctions (that have already been announced) against Russia, and Moscow will in turn take retaliatory measures (already announced as well).

Save for a last-minute diplomatic miracle, the hostility between Russia and the United States will grow deeper still. The Syrian conflict, where the two countries are fighting each other — via their respective allies — risks enduring the most immediate consequences.

In fact, that might already be the case. On Feb. 18, as Kiev was ablaze, John Kerry blamed the Russians for "enabling Assad to double down." The Secretary of State accused Moscow of undermining all possibility of a negotiated outcome by "contributing so many more weapons" to Bashar al-Assad.

Is it completely by chance that the program of dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal, on which Americans and Russians had agreed, has been at a standstill for three months?

Hostage situation

History appears to be repeating itself, like a new Cold War. Resolutions to regional conflicts in which Moscow and Washington are involved depend largely on the relationship between the Kremlin and the White House. And the rapport between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin is ice cold.

On the Syrian front as well as in Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia are on opposite sides. But most observers reckon that the Syrian disaster will not end until the two can agree. And for now, the Russians are a stumbling block.

At the Geneva "peace conference" in February, Moscow let the Syrian delegation obstruct all dialogue with representatives of the rebellion — while at the United Nations, the Kremlin prevents all condemnation, even symbolic, of the massacres perpetrated by the regime.

It is a safe bet that the disagreement over Ukraine is reinforcing Russia's obstructionism on Syria. Bashar al-Assad, thus protected, is winning. He is planning a mockery of an election in June to proclaim himself president for another term.

Assad has managed to give the war the shape he wanted: that of a fight between the last bastion of secularism against a rebellion dominated by Sunni jihadism. The situation on the battlefield is, however, much more complex.

Still, the whole picture barely hides the reality in Syria, that of a regime, of a man, completely in the hands of its foreign godfathers — Iran's military management, some 6,000 fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Russians. The only room for maneuver Assad has is that they have granted him.

And so, from far away, Syrians have the great misfortune to be also be held hostage by the situation in Kiev and Sevastopol.

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