22:01 GMT26 October 2020
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    On June 23, 2014 the Syrian government's last consignment of chemical weapon stockpiles was loaded onto a Danish ship, en route to destruction at a variety of designated facilities. The move was hoped to finally bring peace to the war-ravaged country, and take the prospect of Western "intervention" off the table permanently.

    The process of destroying Syria's chemical weapons stocks began in September 2013, following the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118. The Resolution marked a diplomatic coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin — and laid the foundations for Russia's subsequently enhanced role in contemporary international politics, that of mediator and stabilizer.

    On August 21 2013, rockets containing the chemical agent sarin struck several opposition-controlled areas in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, killing 300 and injuring thousands. The timing of the attack could not have been more opportune for Western powers, as an international coalition of critical voices led by the US had openly been discussing waging war against Syria for much of the year. Then-President Barack Obama had often repeated that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" — the point at which Western intervention in the country became a moral necessity.

    ​While the attack's true source has been much disputed ever since, available evidence strongly suggests the official narrative — that the strike was carried out by government forces — is far removed from the truth.

    In the following weeks, the US, UK and France all began gearing up to rain down bombs upon — if not outright invade — the country, at that point nearing the third year of a vicious internal conflict pitting the popular rule of Bashar al-Assad against predominantly foreign fighters. Attempts to secure a UN Resolution backing an intervention were thwarted by the efforts of Russia and China — however, President Putin opted to go one further, brokering a deal that would make the prospect of another US-led war an impossibility forevermore.

    ​At that year's September G20 summit, Putin met with Obama, and mooted the prospect of placing all Syrian chemical weapons under international control.

    Then-Secretary of State John Kerry publicly stated airstrikes could only be averted if Syria turned over "every single bit" of its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week, and Syria "[wasn't] about to do it and it can't be done" — but Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov quickly responded Russia's proposal had been wholeheartedly welcomed by the Syrian government.

    In all, 1,000-metric-tons of chemical weapons were subsequently relinquished to international control over the next nine months, and Syria joined the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention.

    To say the least, it has surely been a disappointment to many the move did seemingly nothing to halt hostilities in Syria. In fact, there is much to suggest far from quelling foreign funding and arming of the assorted "rebel" factions ravaging the once-peaceful land, contributions in fact gathered pace in its wake — perhaps interested parties believed it weakened the government's offensive capabilities, making the country ripe for regime change.

    Man walks with a pair of children in hand hand through the rubble in Eastern Ghouta, Syria (File)
    © AP Photo / Save the Children
    Man walks with a pair of children in hand hand through the rubble in Eastern Ghouta, Syria (File)

    ​Nonetheless, with the assistance of Russian forces, the government of Syria battled on against the onslaught, and was so close to staving off their destabilizing efforts entirely that in December 2016, Russian-brokered talks between the Assad government and rebel forces began in earnest. While fighting continued in some areas during the initial months of 2017, it appeared a cessation of hostilities was finally within sight. 

    This promising progress was shattered April 4, when a sarin gas strike killed over 70 in the Idlib Governorate of Syria, a town under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, previously known as the al-Nusra Front.

    The echoes of the 2013 strike were unmistakable — an attack of uncertain provenance that could only serve to make Syria a "legitimate" target of Western intervention. Attempts by Russia and Iran to compel the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the attack have met stern resistance, for reasons unclear.

    In response, the Trump administration has adopted an increasingly hardline stance on Syria generally, launching provocative strikes against Syrian targets, proposing cuts to Syria's foreign aid, including contributions to the UN and agencies helping refugees, and attempting to stop Syrian refugees from entering the country.

    Observers have suggested the continued coalition airstrikes in Syria — invariably targeted at government troops — are an obvious attempt to shatter any hope of peace, which may well contravene international law and almost inevitably strengthen the variety of extremist organizations operating in the country.

    A Russian soldier stands guard near a Syrian national flag drawn on the wall as rebel fighters and their families evacuate the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs, after an agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army, Syria May 21, 2017
    © REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki
    A Russian soldier stands guard near a Syrian national flag drawn on the wall as rebel fighters and their families evacuate the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs, after an agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army, Syria May 21, 2017

    Despite this, on June 9 Lt. General Sergei Rudskoi announced the civil war in Syria was "practically" over, largely thanks to the establishment of four safe zones administered by Iran, Russia, Syria and Turkey in the country, which have shored up a seemingly resilient cease-fire, allowing the quartet to focus their military energies on the remnants of Daesh still present in the country.

    ​Nonetheless, Putin is clear there is a "long, very long time to go" before the crisis is fully resolved.

    While the US is said to have entered talks with Russia on developing further "safe zones" in the country, the US-led coalition shootdown of a Syrian Air Force craft June 18 is a seeming demonstration Western forces remain intransigent on the issue interconnected issues of Syria's independence, sovereignty, and future.


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