As Assad’s forces, backed by the Russians, make their final move on Syria’s second city, the world can only count the cost of a humanitarian and military disaster it failed to stop.
The Syrian and Russian onslaught has been going on for weeks. But now it is at a new intensity, as it approaches what may be the end game.
A strategy of indiscriminate bombing, terror and destruction threatens to turn this part of Syria’s second city into a giant graveyard. Syrian army leaflets dropped on the city warn the inhabitants that they must flee, or face annihilation.
Rebel-held Aleppo seems condemned to utter destruction and defeat. Posted on social media, citizens’ desperate messages resemble final pleas, all hope gone.
A UN representative has described the situation as a “descent into hell”.
Beyond words of condemnation and warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe in the making, the powerlessness of UN institutions is obvious.
Russia’s propaganda machine is hard at work alongside the Syrian regime’s, trying to frame these events as the “liberation” of a population described as hostages of Islamic terrorists.
This is as false as it is cynical.
“Terrorists” is the label attached to the opposition to Assad ever since the outbreak of the 2011 street uprising against his dictatorship – a revolution that morphed into a full-on civil war after the Damascus government decided to deploy military power, including missiles, barrel bombs and chemical weapons, against its own population.
By the summer of 2015, President Assad seemed on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention, all the while paying lip service to a diplomatic process the US administration pursued to no avail.
Russia’s move was aimed at reversing the war’s dynamics and consolidating its beleaguered ally, President Assad.
Entrenched in Syria, with powerful S-400 air defence systems installed, it took advantage of western reluctance to get embroiled in the conflict, at a time when Washington had made plain that its priority was fighting Islamic State (Isis), rather than putting an end to the massacres carried out by President Assad’s forces.
Russia has not only turned a blind eye to these atrocities, it has assisted them.
In Moscow, officials now indicate that the situation in east Aleppo will be “resolved” by the end of the year. Make no mistake, that means that the estimated 250,000 inhabitants still remaining at the start of this week will be forced either to leave, or face arrest or death.