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History is not the same as before: The liberation of Aleppo and its geopolitical implications

Niraj Srivastava | Updated on: 19 December 2016, 16:30 IST

Aleppo was liberated on 15 December, 2016 when the Syrian Army took control of eastern Aleppo, and the terrorists - mostly belonging to Jihadi groups such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front - were evacuated, mainly to Idlib.

President Bashar al-Assad made an important statement following the liberation of Aleppo. Alluding to major events in history such as the collapse of the Soviet Union he said:

"History is not the same before and after (the liberation of Aleppo)... I think after liberating Aleppo, we will say that not only the Syrian situation but also the regional and international situation is different...this history that is being made now is bigger than the word congratulations."

It would be useful to understand the implications of President Assad's statement. It is more meaningful than it might seem to someone who does not know the history of the ongoing conflict in Syria, and what has happened in the world over the last 25 years.

History lessons

The liberation of Aleppo marks an "inflection point" in global geopolitics. It stops and reverses a trend that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that suddenly created a power vacuum in the world, which led to many unfortunate events involving large-scale loss of human lives and destruction of several countries.

Tanks at Red Square during the 1991 Soviet Union dissolution (Wikipedia)

There was nobody to stop the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Gulf from doing whatever they wanted. The United Nations was reduced to a mere spectator.

Several credible reports suggested that Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to withdraw more than half a million Soviet troops from East Berlin on the basis of a clear understanding and commitment made in 1990 by the US that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will not be expanded eastwards.

After all, since the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in March 1991, what was the rationale for the continued existence of NATO? What threat did the West face?

But the Americans did not keep their commitment, even though strategists such as George Kennan warned Bill Clinton not to expand NATO. But by then the neoconservatives (better known as the neocons) had begun to acquire influence in US policymaking.

Former NATO Supreme Commander GeneralWesley Clark is has quoted Paul Wolfowitz, the then Under Secretary of Defence, as saying in 1991 that the US should "clean up those old Soviet client regimes such as Syria, Iran, and Iraq before the next great superpower comes to challenge us."

Global domination 101

The expansion of NATO was the first step in extending US hegemony over Europe, with the ultimate goal of global domination. A new role was found for NATO - out of area operations - to intimidate and destroy countries that stood in the way of the US. It became a weapon to terrorise the rest of the world.

The first illegal use of NATO to bomb a country was the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. It was not authorised by the UN Security Council. Russia was still too weak to prevent it.

The first illegal use of NATO to bomb a country was the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. It was not authorised by the UN Security Council (Wikipedia)

Having gotten away with it, the US and its allies never looked back. NATO became their weapon of choice to destroy countries for one reason or another.

Then Bush Jr. (George Bush) unilaterally abrogated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002, causing strategic instability and proclaiming US' unilateralism, which became the hallmark of its behaviour.

It was an unambiguous signal to Russia and the rest of the world that the US had embarked on its global hegemony journey.

That followed was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, allegedly for possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Of course, it was a false pretence, there were no WMDs in Iraq.

The real reason behind the invasion was oil, and Israel's goal to destroy and fragment large Arab/Islamic states like Iraq and Syria.

The bigger gameplan

The 1982 "Oded Yinon Plan for Greater Israel" contained the blueprint for Israel's strategic designs in the Middle East and North Africa. It called for extending her borders from the Nile to the Euphrates.

General Wesley Clark also revealed in a speech in October 2007 that the Pentagon had drawn up plans in 2001 for attacking and destroying seven countries in five years. He said the list of the countries began with Iraq and included Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

Clark was not bluffing.

Libya was bombed by NATO for seven months, beginning 19 March 2011, till 20 October, when Colonel Gaddafi was murdered in an operation in which NATO aircrafts and Islamist fighters took part.

Libya was bombed by NATO for seven months beginning 19 March 2011 (Wikipedia)

The US, UK, and France duped the UN Security Council into adopting a resolution on 17 March 2011, to enforce a "No Fly Zone" in Libya on the false pretence of an imminent massacre of civilians by Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

This resolution was used by them to bomb Libya till Gaddafi was killed, along with several thousand innocent civilians.

These were war crimes and crimes against humanity, as committed earlier in Iraq, and later in Syria.

Peace. Sorry what?

When some peaceful demonstrations took place in Syria in the wake of 'Arab Spring' at the beginning of 2011, some countries saw in them an opportunity to dislodge the Assad regime, which was already a target for regime change as early as 2001, if not 1991, as mentioned above.

They included Israel, the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. They infiltrated mercenaries, many of them belonging to terrorist and Jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda, into Syria.

These foreign fighters, who were trained and armed in Turkey and Jordan, mingled with the peaceful demonstrators and deliberately fired at Syrian security forces who were trying to control the crowds.

When they fired back in self-defence, some civilians were caught in the crossfire and killed. The situation escalated quickly, resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians.

The West and its allies jumped upon these incidents to allege that the Syrian regime was "deliberately killing its own people", and demanded that President Assad step down. This is how the "regime change" operation began in Syria in March 2011.

While Turkey and Jordan provided the camps where the mercenaries were trained, the Saudis and Qataris funded the operations including payment for the weapons. The training and political cover was provided by the US, UK, and their Western allies.

A long road

Regime change in Libya took seven months. The West thought it could be done in Syria, too. It was here that they miscalculated.

Syria was not Libya. The Syrian Army fought gallantly for more than five years. But more than 4,00,000 people were killed, and millions made homeless. Eastern Aleppo was occupied by Jihadi groups such as the Nusra Front in July 2012.

Russia entered the war in Syria in September 2015, at the invitation of Syria, at a time when increasing areas in the country were coming under terrorist control.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah from Lebanon also joined the Syrian Army to fight the Jihadis. The Russian air force destroyed much of the terrorist infrastructure, including supply lines from Turkey and the oil smuggling network of ISIS/Daesh.

It took more than a year after the Russian intervention to finally liberate Aleppo on 15 December 2016.

It symbolised the clear military defeat of the West and its allies for the first time after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It also marks the re-emergence of Russia as a major global power.

For these reasons, the importance of Aleppo transcends Syria. That is the real meaning of President Assad's remarks - that "History is not the same before and after (the liberation of Aleppo)".

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 19 December 2016, 16:30 IST
Niraj Srivastava

Niraj Srivastava is a former Indian ambassador to Denmark and Uganda. He also served in diplomatic missions in the US, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Canada.