Russia delivers Aleppo ultimatum —with war fleet

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The GuardianAl Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)

This imminent escalation increases pressure for a "no-fly zone"—which remains a very unlikely prospect due to the inevitable Russian veto in the UN Security Council. Peter Tetchell in The Telegraph urges the use of Resolution 377A—the so-called "Uniting for Peace" measure that gives the General Assembly power to convene an emergency special session and to override the Security Council on breaches of peace. This was used in 1950 during the Korean War and the 1956 Suez crisis.

Steven Heydemann has an op-ed in the New York Times urging: "You Don't Need a No-Fly Zone to Pressure Russia in Syria." Instead, he calls for the US to recognize the Syrian Interim Government, or SIG—which has something of a capital in Idlib and actually governs much of opposition-held territory. Its prime minister, a politically independent heart surgeon named Jawad Abu Hatab, was elected in May by a large majority of the General Assembly of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, based in Istanbul. (It is extremely telling that the US has not yet recognized the SIG—further evidence that all Washington's empty anti-Assad talk masks de facto collaboration with the regime.)

Russia is launching a propaganda counter-offensive—for instance, pointing to the US-led assault on Mosul to justify its own on Aleppo. (WaPo). James Denselow in Al Jazeera rejects any such equivalency: "Short of the use of biological and nuclear weapons, Syria has seen the full spectrum of human destructiveness and Aleppo is currently in the centre of the storm."

This comes just as Amnesty International is putting pressure on the US for transparency regarding the civilian toll of its air-strikes in Syria and Iraq. The rights group finds that the US-led coalition may have killed some 300 civilians over the past two years of air-strikes in Syria alone. (Rudaw, Oct. 26) That's about as many as Russia kills in a week.

In the latest outrage, Russia was accused last week of air raids on the village of Hass, Idlib, which hit a school, killing at least 26 including several children. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 27) Russia, in turn, blamed Belgium for an air-raid on Hassajek village, Aleppo, that killed six some days earlier. This utterly improbable and seemingly arbitrary claim was of course immediately denied by Belgium. (DW, Oct. 21)

Amid all this, the position of the "anti-war" (sic) "left" (sic) in the West continues to boil down to: "Syrian lives don't matter." Sam Hamad in The New Arab Again calls out the repugnant Jill Stein for her openly pro-Assad stance. "In an interview with the far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars, the 'left-wing' Green US presidential candidate Jill Stein claimed that if Hillary Clinton gets elected 'we're… going to war with Russia folks'. Days before that interview, Stein tweeted that 'Hillary Clinton's foreign policy is much scarier than Trump's, who doesn’t want to go to war with Russia.'" Hamad goes on to argue that a no-fly zone would not mean war with Russia, which would back down in the face of superior firepower.

Hamad may or may not be right, and it is certainly a very high-stakes gamble. But he is correct that the "logic of appeasement" is hardly a principled anti-war position!

The Intercept, to its credit, this week runs an interview with longtime Syrian opposition figure and former political prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh. A relevant passage:

What did you expect from the left in its response to the Syrian revolution?

It came to me as a shock, actually, that most of them have sided with Bashar al-Assad. I don't expect much out of the international left, but I thought they would understand our situation and see us as a people who were struggling against a very despotic, very corrupt, and very sectarian regime. I thought they would...side with us. What I found, unfortunately, is that most people on the left know absolutely nothing about Syria. They know nothing of its history, political economy, or contemporary circumstances, and they don't see us.

Raising the alarm about the potential for disastrous superpower confrontation is one thing. Calling for letting the Syrians die as the price of world peace (such as it is) is quite another. 

Anyone have anything better to offer?

Civil society appeal to UN General Assembly on Syria

A group of over 200 civil society groups from around the world have issued a statement calling for an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly "to demand an end to all unlawful attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered humanitarian access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need." The statement is onlne at Human Rights Watch, one of the signatories.

UN action on Aleppo blocked

Al Arabiya reports that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey issued a statement calling on the UN to hold an emergency special session of the General Assembly to end the Aleppo crisis. Russia and China meanwhile vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have demanded a seven-day truce in Syria's Aleppo, with Moscow arguing it would allow rebels to regroup. (Reuters)