- By Kavitha SuranaKavitha Surana is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She has reported from Italy, Germany, and Senegal and her stories have been published in the past by the Associated Press, Quartz, Al Jazeera, CNN, GlobalPost and OZY. She holds a joint master’s degree in journalism and European and Mediterranean studies from New York University.
As the United States and Britain announced that they are considering new sanctions against Moscow for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the brutal aerial bombardment of the rebel-held city of Aleppo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry worried Sunday that Russian fighter jets were harking back to a similar strategy used by the Kremlin during its war in Chechnya.
“There are still deep beliefs in a lot of people that Russia is simply pursuing a Grozny solution in Aleppo and is not prepared to truly engage in any way,” Kerry said at a press briefing with U.K. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, referring to Moscow’s vicious scorched-earth campaign during the Second Chechen War that decimated the breakaway republic’s capital city.
The comments were clearly noticed by the Kremlin and soon made their way onto the Twittersphere. On Monday, the social-media-adept Russian Embassy in Washington clapped back with a tweet taking aim at Kerry and Johnson’s comments.
— Russian Embassy, USA (@RusEmbUSA) October 17, 2016
The tweet, which featured photos of the completely rebuilt downtown core of Grozny, dismissed international outrage over Russia’s tactics in Aleppo. Instead, it sent the message that the Chechen capital bounced back from destruction just fine. Of course, the embassy didn’t see any reason to dwell on the at least 160,000 casualties during the First and Second Chechen Wars, two brutal conflicts in the 1990s that had allegations of atrocities on both sides.
In any case, the reconstruction of Grozny doesn’t bode well for those who hope to see Russia out of Syria anytime soon. In the years following the war, billions of dollars of investment from Moscow and Gulf countries have flooded into the city, helping support Chechnya’s strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to keep a lid on unrest with repressive tactics. Putin may hope to use a similar strategy in Aleppo.
In Syria, Russia’s support for Assad has led to an even greater level of humanitarian devastation. Every day that Russian-assisted bombing continues in Aleppo — the last stronghold of Syria’s opposition rebels — more buildings are flattened, and the death toll rises. The number of dead is already estimated at more than 400,000 in Syria since the start of the war.
Western countries have shown increasing frustration with Russia’s involvement as multiple cease-fire efforts fell apart in past months. On Oct. 7, Kerry called for initiating a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria, admonishing the two countries for bombing civilian targets like hospitals and obstructing humanitarian aid relief efforts.
Russia’s brutal strategy in Chechnya may have won it the war — but at a great human cost. It hardly looks like a promising template for a “solution” to Aleppo’s brutal nightmare.
Photo credit: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images