During a UN Security Council crisis meeting on Sunday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared himself “appalled” by the Syrian government’s massive attack on Aleppo, saying it “brings the violence to new levels of barbarity.”
The special UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the past week has been “one of the worst ones in Syria during the near six years of this devastating conflict.”
CNN reports the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, seconded that notion, accusing Russia of supporting “barbarism” by backing dictator Bashar Assad’s onslaught.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism,” said Power. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
The British, French, and U.S. ambassadors proceeded to walk out of the UN Security Council session in protest, with British ambassador Matthew Rycroft declaring the Aleppo attack should be classified as a war crime.
“After five years of conflict, you might think that the regime has had its fill of barbarity – that its sick bloodlust against its own people has finally run its course. But this weekend, the regime and Russia have instead plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo,” Rycroft fumed.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, countered by accusing the United States and its allies of hindering humanitarian efforts by continuing to support elements of the Syrian resistance.
“Moscow and Damascus say they are bombing only militants, although video from Aleppo has repeatedly shown small children being dug out of the rubble of collapsed buildings,” Reuters somberly observed.
A badly rattled Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at critics who painted him as a sucker (“intrepid but delusional,” as Senator John McCain put it) for negotiating a ceasefire with Russia, while Russia and Syria were moving forces into place for the obliteration of Aleppo.
Kerry still sounded utterly clueless in his response to McCain.
“The cause of what is happening is Assad and Russia wanting to pursue a military victory. Today there is no ceasefire and we’re not talking to them right now. And what’s happening? The place is being utterly destroyed. That’s not delusional. That’s a fact,” the Secretary of State exclaimed to reporters as if he were leveling a blockbuster allegation, instead of stating the obvious.
“Russia and Assad appear to have abandoned diplomacy last week, betting instead on delivering a decisive military blow against the president’s enemies on the battlefield,” Reuters remarked.
The Russians and Syrians didn’t “abandon democracy,” they used it — and the very easily fooled John Kerry — to get what they wanted, which was the position for a decisive blow against the resistance in Syria.
Russia is still playing that game, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov airily remarking that Moscow sees “absolutely no prospect” for holding a Syria summit while the Americans and Europeans are spitting nails over the Aleppo bombing.
“We note that the tone and rhetoric used by official representatives from the UK and US is generally unacceptable and it can seriously damage the settlement process and our bilateral relations,” Peskov said at a news conference on Friday, as reported by the BBC.
The Russian spokesman also claimed “terrorists” had used the U.S.-brokered ceasefire to “regroup, replenish their arsenals and obviously prepare for offensive actions.”
Analyst Alex Kokcharov of IHS Country Risk told NBC News this was all “much more than the usual diplomatic chitchat,” calling the words exchanged between Russia, the U.S., and Europe “probably the strongest we’ve heard since the Cold War ended.”
Kokcharov thought Moscow was overplaying its hand in Syria, creating such a strong international backlash that it will become harder, not easier, for Russia to achieve its goals in Syria. That judgment will largely depend on how long the Aleppo assault continues.
The Russians doubtless calculate that victory will come quickly, allowing them to argue that ceasefires and humanitarian aid were only prolonging the final stage of the Syrian civil war by allowing rebel forces to hold out for longer.
The potential pitfall for Russia is global media flooding with images of horror from Aleppo, as described in another CNN report:
Bloodied toddlers wail on a hospital bed. Rescuers pull a baby from rubble, unsure whether the child will survive.
The latest videos from rebel-held eastern Aleppo purportedly show scenes from a nightmare that a joint US-Russian peace plan was supposed to resolve.
[…] Activists say the wounded children in footage from the besieged city were hit by airstrikes as the Syrian government announced a new offensive in the area.
About 200 airstrikes have pummeled neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo since Friday morning, said Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service.
Rescue teams are still working to extract people from the rubble, he said.
Al-Selmo estimated that more than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured within Aleppo neighborhoods by the airstrikes. This figure does not include neighborhoods in the countryside. CNN could not immediately confirm the death toll.
During a rescue operation overnight Friday into Saturday, at least five members of the Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, were injured by a nearby airstrike, al-Selmo said. One of those hurt is in critical condition.
This report quotes Syria Civil Defense officials claiming that Russian jets are directly involved in some of the airstrikes.
A ground action is also under way, as promised by the Syrian government. Assad’s troops and militia allies took control of the Handarat Palestinian refugee camp in the northeastern outskirts of Aleppo on Saturday, according to CNN, followed by a rebel counter-offensive to retake the territory.