Criminal Justice Paper on Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria

Criminal Justice Paper on Russia’s Military Intervention in Syria

The Syrian conflict that began in 2011 has left behind a full-scale humanitarian crisis that has probably never been experienced since the 2nd World War. The conflict has caused untold suffering to the country’s population. Millions of refugees have left the war-torn country to nations such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Approximately 400,000 civilian casualties have been reported in the war-torn country since the conflict began in 2011 (Katz 34). Approximately 1 in every 10 Syrian citizens have been injured, maimed, or killed in the past five years. There are reports indicating that over 50,000 people have died as a result of the intense fighting in Syria. Aleppo represents the real picture of death and destruction that the conflict has left behind. It is a city that used to be a hub of activity with buzzing business activities before 2011, yet it is physically dilapidated today. A bombardment of airstrikes has almost flattened the city by targeting key facilities such as business structure, schools, and hospitals. The previously rebel-held region was the epicenter of warfare between pro-government forces and the rebel groups. A number of foreign players were either directly or indirectly involved in the conflict. However, Russia has taken large share of the blame in escalating the death and destruction in Syria. Since the war began in 2011, Kremlin vowed to support President Assad’s regime. Russia often expressed its stand with the regime by launching air strikes against rebel groups, claiming that ISIS and other terrorist-affiliated groups are its intended targets. Other foreign countries that were involved in the conflict include Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. This paper will seek to analyze if Russia is to blame for the destruction and death in Syria by reviewing data in the past few years.

How Russia is to Blame For the Destruction and Deaths Reported in Syria

Russia officially initiated military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015. Proponents of Syria’s military action claimed that the country was doing so to defend its national interests. Others claimed that the military action was meant to minimize the threat posed by Russian foreign fighters who had joined Syria in search of jihad training. However, there have been clear signs that the main goal of Kremlin was to support Assad’s regime. Russian state television depicted Russian leader as a savior who was intent on solving a crisis. The media also took up a campaign to explain Russia’s military operation is Syria. However, the same media is silent on the death and destruction left behind by Russian airstrikes in Russia.

In a matter of four months after Russia launched its military action in Syria, a total of 340 civilian casualty incidents were reported to have been caused by Russian aircraft. More civilians were killed within this period than from all the previously credibly-reported civilian fatality events in the previous year (2014). The alleged civilian fatality range from all events was estimated to be around 1800 to 2430, with approximately 1440 fatality incidents being reported from these fair reporting events (Fjelde, Hanne, Hultman, & Sollenberg 42). In total, the credibly reported injuries between September 30th and December 31st, 2015 were noted to be around 2000. Apart from inflicting death upon civilians, Russia is reported to have assumed a campaign targeting civilian infrastructure in Syria. The Russian airstrikes destroyed water treatment plants, food distribution depots, markets, aid convoys, and bakeries (Averre, Derek, & Davies 830). In the rebel-held regions, Russia targeted civilian areas. Despite the destruction and death reports left in the wake of Russia’s intervention, the state media continued to assert that no civilians were killed in its air battles.

Russia has also been persistent in providing weapons to the Syrian Armed forces throughout the conflict. Specifically, Aleppo province embodies the Russian actions. This is one of the areas where civilians were the primary victims of the Russian military intervention. In a city like Aleppo, the airstrikes have targeted health facilities. In February 2016, missiles that targeted two schools and five hospitals killed up to 50 children. Another airstrike in October 2016 in northern Syria killed 20 children. In August 2016, at least 100 people were killed in air strikes led by the Russian forces. Approximately 300,000 civilians were trapped in the rebel-held regions (Cunningham et al. 50). Kafr Hamra suffered after its hospitals hosting women and children were hit. A high number of people were trapped in the rubbles before Russia announced a three-hour stop in aerial attacks to allow humanitarian convoys to help the trapped civilians. Around the same period, the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) set free over 2000 people that it was using human shields during the air strikes.

Washington called for Russia to be investigated over the alleged war crimes in Syria as most campaigners cited its use of the banned cluster bombs. Growing evidence indicated that there was a significant rise in the use of cluster bombs. The banned munitions contributed to approximately 400 people in 2015. According to Sorenson (65), “since Russia began its joint operation with Syrian forces at the end September 2015, there was a rapid increase in the number of cluster munition attacks on opposition-held areas.” The cluster munition attacks were used in support of Assad’s regime, but Russia continued to deny using the devices that spray bomblets indiscriminately. However, opponents of the Syrian war blame Russia because the devices killed a total of 248 civilians as a result of their intervention. The Syrian attacks had reportedly reduced in late 2014 and first half of 2015, but after Russian forces begun supporting Assad’s forces, the attacks using illegal weapons rose again. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, about 360 cluster munition attacks were used, with 76 of them linked to Russia.

President Assad is reported to have killed far more people than the Islamic State in 2015. He has almost always relied exclusively on his air force to conduct most of the brutal aerial attacks. However, this military muscle is supported by Russia. Gorenburg (59) states that Russian aircraft have the ability to fly over rebel-held regions with ease to launch deadly airstrikes that include dropping barrel bombs and metal drums filled with explosive material. The government forces backed by Russia’s military power were reported to have been responsible for over 250,000 deaths during the first four years of the conflict. In the first half of 2015, Assad’s forces killed approximately 7890 people while the ISIL was responsible for just over 1100 deaths (Bagdonas 75). Russia contributed largely to the regime’s death and destruction in Syria. In Douma, air raids leveled buildings to leave the streets littered with dead bodies in a September 2015 attack.

The Russian Federation is to blame for the destruction and death toll in Syria. Its military power destroyed Aleppo and left approximately 13.6 million people needing humanitarian aid across Syria’s embattled regions (Carpenter 11). The conflict led aggressively by Assad-backed forces and Russia displaced a staggering 6.7 million people and left a further 4.6 million people in inaccessible areas. The eastern part of Aleppo suffered aerial bombardments by the forces, prompting a mass displacement of families. Most of the internally displaced persons fled into make-shift camps along the Turkish border. Lucas (23) claims that Aleppo will take many years before it reclaims its past glory and reputation after most of its structures were destroyed in repeated aerial attacks from Russia’s warplanes. However, there is no other factor that sticks out as Russia’s involvement in attacking medical care. According to Assembly (UN):

The targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transport, and the denial of access to medical care remain an ingrained feature of the Syrian conflict. Interviewees from across the country emphasized the long-standing paucity of medical care available to the sick and wounded, resulting in an increase in deaths and permanent disabilities. That civilians have little or no access to medical care is largely the result of the deliberate destruction of health-care infrastructure by warring parties. In areas under bombardment, only minor injuries were treated locally. (24)

The Russian forces, in conjunction with other pro-government forces, targeted medical facilities in those rebel-led regions. By mid-2016, less than ten hospital facilities were functioning of the over 30 that were open in 2010 in Aleppo city. Some of the injured civilians died on their way to seek medical help in Turkey. Hospitals closed one after the other as ground and air attacks escalated across Syria. This occurred even after the international humanitarian law guarantees the safety of medical personnel and facilities in times of conflict.

Russia has repeatedly been blamed for conducting air raids on schools particularly around Syria’s Idlib province where about 26 civilians died. This specific bombing involved Russian planes that were reported to be targeting rebel groups. Human rights and aid organizations have taken up the campaign to force Russia to be dropped from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council for its military operations in Syria that destroyed schools and killed scores of school-going children. It is reported that over 3 million children have ceased to attend classes due to the often deliberate and also indiscriminate attacks. The government air forces, together with Russia, are to blame for destroying lives of innocent children at such a delicate age.

Some people who are pro-government in Syria believe that Russia is not to blame for the death and destruction in the country. Specifically, Kremlin refutes the idea that Russia is to blame for the aftermath. As Moscow likes to reiterate, the conflict involved a number of foreign as well as local players. One of the major players includes one that consists of forces fighting against Assad’s regime. This group is composed mostly of the Sunni Islamists as well as the Kurdish militia. The national scene has been compounded by the presence of rebel-affiliated armed groups such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Even as this argument considers the role of Russia in the destruction, it cannot forget that other foreign players were involved. For example, the U.S. conducted numerous airstrikes against ISIS militants. It also supported some of the moderate rebel factions who were intent on trying to end Assad’s political era. Specifically, it provided a number of weapons and also trained moderated rebels. Washington was intent on toppling Assad’s government especially after it used chemical warfare on its people. The intervention was meant to train and arm a Syrian proxy force that was estimated to cost over $500 million. This program targeted Syrian rebels have, but the plan is suffered from huge setbacks as people refrained from joining. Kremlin justified the intervention in Syria as a way of fixing the mistakes that the Americans had made by pushing for a change in regime. According to Lucas (12), “the war in Syria is presented as an effect of external interference on the part of the U.S. and their Arab allies.” Supporters of President Putin claim that the military intervention was legal because it got involved as a result of a request from Syrian president. According to Kremlin, this action stands out from the American actions which were intent on fighting a legally elected president. This is what Russia holds on to as one of the justifying facts of helping President Assad.


Russia is to blame for the death and destruction in Syria. This is despite the fact that Kremlin justifies the military intervention as one that as meant to protect the national interests as well as fix mistakes of the West.  Russia also claimed that it was concerned with former Soviet State fighters who were returning from Iraq and Syria to harm the country. These justifications were meant to conceal the truth of the Syrian conflict and the untold suffering that civilians had to endure from the direct actions of Russian forces. Russia provided President Assad with weapons and other war logistics to help suppress the rebels. It also provided the regime with illegal weapons that were used to bomb targeted areas indiscriminately. The banned munitions were responsible for the death of civilians.

In conjunction with the Russian forces, Syria’s pro-government forces targeted hospitals, schools, and markets where they killed hundreds of civilians. Thousands of people were left without medical attention while others were trapped in inaccessible areas. Aleppo province can be used to denote the devastating impact of Russia’s intervention in Syria. A city that was once the pride of Syria is almost leveled as most of its facilities crumbled under a series of aerial attacks by the Russian forces. Towards the end of 2016, only a few hospitals were functioning in the city that had over 33 fully-operational health centers. Supporters of Kremlin will point out that countries such as the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Turkey also have to blame for the death and destruction in Syria because they provided financial and military assistance to the rebel groups in Syria. However, the impact of Russia in Syria is evident due to its superior military power. It is reported that the Assad-led forces that were helped by Russia to conduct aerial attacks killed more people that the Islamic State did in Syria in the first four years of the conflict. It is also noted that the use of indiscriminate warfare increased with the entry of Russia. Russia has to blame for the death and destruction in Syria.


Works Cited

Assembly, UN General. “Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.” (2013).

Averre, Derek, and Lance Davies. “Russia, humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: the case of Syria.” International Affairs 91.4 (2015): 813-834.

Bagdonas, Azuolas. “Russia’s Interests in the Syrian Conflict: Power, Prestige, and Profit.” European Journal of Economic and Political Studies 5.2 (2016): 55-77.

Carpenter, Ted Galen. “Tangled web: The syrian civil war and its implications.” Mediterranean Quarterly 24.1 (2013): 1-11.

Cunningham, David E., Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Idean Salehyan. “Non-State Actors in Civil War.” Peace and Conflict 2016 (2016): 50.

Fjelde, Hanne, Lisa Hultman, and Margareta Sollenberg. “Violence against Civilians during Civil War.” Peace and Conflict 2016 (2016): 42.

Gorenburg, Dmitry. “What Russia’s Military Operation in Syria Can Tell Us About Advances in its Capabilities.” PONARS Eurasia, March (2016).

Katz, Mark N. “The impact of the Syrian conflict on Russian relations with other Middle Eastern countries.” Russian Analytical Digest 10.128 (2013): 2-4.

Katz, Mark N. “Russia and the conflict in Syria: four myths.” Middle East Policy 20.2 (2013): 38-46.

Lucas, Scott. “A Beginner’s Guide to Syria’s Civil War.” Political Insight 7.1 (2016): 12-15.

Lucas, Scott. “The effects of Russian intervention in the Syria crisis.” GSDRC, December (2015).

Sorenson, David S. Syria in Ruins: The Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War: The Dynamics of the Syrian Civil War. ABC-CLIO, 2016.

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