Syrian regime, opposition see their own parallels in Ukraine struggle

March 10, 2014

By Alex Simon

Opponents of the Syrian regime take to Twitter, Facebook to send messages of support to Ukrainian protestors as Assad backs Moscow.

AMMAN: After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a message to his Russian counterpart expressing his “solidarity”—and that of the Syrian people—with Vladimir Putin’s decision to occupy the Crimea, Syrian citizens took to the streets and to social media over the weekend to condemn Moscow’s actions and express their support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

In cartoons, signs and slogans, Syrian activists have drawn parallels between their own civil war and the growing crisis in Ukraine, charging that the international community has failed to adequately rein in Russian—or Russian-sponsored—aggression.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, after months of silence on the topic, voiced its support for the Kremlin’s efforts to quell disturbances by “terrorist extremists” in Ukraine, echoing its patron’s unwavering backing of Damascus’s military crackdown on “foreign terrorists” in Syria.

Screen_Shot_2014-03-10_at_8.39.42_PM.pngA cartoon published on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood's site shows Vladimir Putin
tenuously perched between Syria and Ukraine. 

Assad went on to refer to Russia’s actions as “a rational approach, which favors peace and seeks to establish a global system that supports stability and combats extremism and terrorism.”

Russia, along with Iran, has been Assad’s most stalwart international patron, backing the Syrian government’s line that it is fighting international terrorism rather than a local uprising.

Moscow has continued to furnish the Syrian government with arms and financing, while repeatedly blocking measures in the United Nations Security Council intended to rein in the Syrian government’s use of indiscriminate violence against civilians.

One day after Assad delivered his message to the Kremlin, citizens in the Idlib town of Kafr Nabl took to the streets to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and warning them not to place their faith in assistance from abroad.

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“Don’t surrender to the savage Russians,” reads one sign in Kafr Nabl, whose residents have become well-known for their use of creative, English-language signs during weekly Friday protests. “Keep going, depend on yourselves, and never relay [sic] on the international community.”

Russian brutality and impunity were recurring themes in the Kafr Nabel demonstration, with another poster showing Vladimir Putin standing with one boot on Ukraine and another on the United Nations while appearing to feed an infant version of President Bashar al-Assad with the blood of Syria.

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These feelings of solidarity with Ukrainian protestors and disillusionment with both the domestic and international dimensions of Syria’s own uprising echoed around pro-opposition news sites and social media.

In late February, Syrian activists created a Facebook event entitled “Send advice to Ukraine’s revolutionaries,” on which Syrian citizens posted recommendations—often infused with a measure of bitterness—for their Ukrainian counterparts.

“Don’t trust anything named Coalition or National Council,” suggested one poster, deriding the Syrian opposition-in-exile. Another alluded to the fractiousness of local governance in Syria, remarking that “one coordination committee is enough for a city—you don’t need one for every street.”

Other online images were defiant in tone, suggesting that Russia’s aggression against both Syria and Ukraine would ultimately come to haunt the Kremlin.

One cartoon, published on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s site, depicts Vladimir Putin sweating as he straddles Syria and Ukraine, with both countries beginning to crumble beneath him.

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Another shows Putin, under the caption “Russian roulette,” holding two pistols to the side of his head, one labeled “Syria” and the other labeled “Ukraine.”

The opposition’s messages did not resonate with the Syrian president. In his statement, Assad praised Putin’s efforts to bring stability back to Ukraine, describing Russia’s actions as a “wise policy.” 

This message, Assad said, is “on behalf of the Syrian people.”

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