Drop relief supplies over eastern Aleppo – no matter what!
Eastern Aleppo is dying. Not just due to the relentless air strikes, artillery shelling and almost daily chemical weapons’ attacks by the regime and Russia, but also due to the five-month siege, imposed by these two regimes and multiple Shiite terrorist groups.
Around 275,000 civilians, among them 100,000 children, are running out of food and medicine and will begin to starve over the next days and weeks. Beginning with the weak, sick and injured, then the first average people, and finally thousands every month – if the situation does not change.
Assad and Putin made their point clear: They won’t let any aid into eastern Aleppo by land. Hundreds of aid trucks are waiting inside Turkey since months, ready to supply the suffering population with what it needs to survive. But Putin and Assad never had the plan to let them through. Their strategy is to famish the people until they die or surrender and come to the ‘humanitarian corridors’ to not see their children die a painful way in front of their eyes. This is the same strategy they used in Madaya, Darayya and many other places.
The world cannot accept this anymore. So there is only one way to break the siege and at least supply the civilians with the humanitarian aid they need to survive: An airlift, dropping tons of food and medicine for more than a quarter of a million civilians, not at some point in the future but now. This would also have the positive side effects to break the deadlock on Syria and to end the Assad regime and Russian propaganda, dehumanizing the people in the free areas as ‘terrorists’.
You will ask: ‘Isn’t that the same silly and unrealistic idea the German FM Steinmeier had in August and every informed Syria expert denounced rightfully as a nonstarter?!’ You are right.
What is needed now is an airlift, no matter what. We are not talking of a negotiated and agreed on air bridge, Assad and Putin gave their permission to – because they won’t. What we talk about are relief flights, departing from Turkey, Cyprus or Greece, flying into Syrian air space, controlled by Russia, approaching Aleppo and dropping their aid packages over the besieged parts of the city. The aid is available, it takes not more than a few days to arrange the cargo planes needed and the situation is so grave. The operation must start right now.
‘But what if Russia objects,’ you may ask. Let them object. It is one thing to drop bombs on a Red Cross aid convoy west of Aleppo and then blame the rebels or the US for it. But it is quite something else to down a United Nations or national air force relief plane, transporting humanitarian aid to dying children. My prediction is that Russia would NOT dare to attack such aid planes, if they are officially announced and – preferably – have media teams and EU parliamentarians on board, reporting live from the needed humanitarian operation and Russian actions to disrupt it.
If I were wrong and Russia used its air force or air defense systems in Syria to stop the airborne relief supplies from reaching eastern Aleppo, it would have to do this in front of the world. And it would not just bear responsibility for hundreds of thousands of starving civilians in Aleppo, but also for the murder of a relief flight crew as well as media representatives and EU lawmakers. I say again: Russia wouldn’t do that. And if it did, it would be the nail of its international reputation coffin - a catastrophe but also an eye opener and the end of the ignorance of the daily Russian war crimes in Syria.
We speak about 275,000 dying innocent men, women and children. Action must be taken now to stop that disaster from further evolving. And we speak about the tiny chance Russia would dare to stop this international humanitarian effort and down a UN, American or EU aid plane during the mission. We should take that chance. I would offer to be present on the first relief flight to cover the urgently needed airlift operation.
Julian Röpcke is a newspaper editor and political commentator, based in the German capital, Berlin. With a degree in Political Geography and Sociology, Mr. Röpcke started analyzing geopolitical conflicts after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He covered the “Arab Spring” as well as the evolving conflicts in Syria and Ukraine from their very beginning. Julian Röpcke works for BILD, the largest newspaper and leading online news portal in Germany (@JulianRoepcke).