President Bashar al-Assad continues to tighten his grip over Syria as more opposition-held cities fall to the government and its allies. After seven years, the human cost of this war has been significant. Latest estimates suggest five million Syrians have fled the country and hundreds of thousands have been killed in a conflict that has involved many foreign actors. Alexey Khlebnikov of the Russian International Affairs Council says Russia’s intervention has been a success in its goal to support the Syrian regime, and to “eliminate the credibility of terrorists”. Since joining the war two years ago, Russian authorities say its military has helped Assad reclaim approximately 85 percent of territories held by opposition groups. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said how all sides in the Syrian conflict have committed human rights atrocities, but that the Syrian government is responsible for by far the biggest part of them. When asked if President Assad, and his Russian and Iranian supporters, can now claim victory, Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah says “if we were saying that winning the game was meeting the aspirations of the people of Syria, then that wouldn’t be the case”. Reports of substantial civilian casualties have led many to criticise Russia’s conduct during the war, most recently in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. Top UN human rights officials have said that the indiscriminate shelling may constitute war crimes. “Civilian casualties may be part and parcel of its strategy,” says Mara Karlin, Brookings Senior Fellow and a former senior Pentagon official under U.S. President Barack Obama. “Russia’s military has tried to use Syria as its tactical and operational battle ground to test its weapons,” she adds. Khlebnikov rejects this. “Russia, since its military involvement, simultaneously started to allow this reconciliation process within Syria,” he says. He explains the negotiations taking place in the Kazakh capital Astana is a new track where field commanders have been able to sit together and talk. In this week’s Arena, we ask whether victory can be claimed by Syrian President Assad and his allies, and if the victims of crimes of this war will ever see justice.

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Opinion

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