BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian police stormed her home and dragged her husband away. Her eldest son died in a rain of Syrian authorities shells on her hometown. So like thousands and thousands of different Syrians, Hanadi Hafisi fled the nation with plans to return when the warfare ended.
A decade later, she’s nonetheless a refugee in Turkey, the place her work at a middle that treats warfare accidents exposes her to a relentless show of the human destruction wrought by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his Russian backers: paralysis, lacking arms and legs, and deep trauma that leaves her sufferers asking why such disasters consumed their lives.
“I don’t know what to inform them once they ask me whether or not they may attain justice,” mentioned Ms. Hafisi, 46. “Severely, what to inform them? That Bashar can be held accountable? That he’ll face trial? In fact not.”
Because the world takes within the grim realities of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — the once-vibrant neighborhoods bombed out, the civilians killed by shells whereas making an attempt to flee, the hypothesis about whether or not Russia will use chemical weapons — many Syrians have watched with a horrifying sense of déjà vu and a deep foreboding about what lies forward.
The Syrian warfare started 11 years in the past this month with an anti-Assad rebellion that spiraled right into a multisided battle among the many authorities, armed rebels, jihadists and others. Lots of of 1000’s of individuals have been killed, thousands and thousands have fled their houses, and Mr. al-Assad has remained in energy, largely due to the intensive help he obtained from the person now driving the invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin Russia.
The legacy of Syria’s warfare, and Russia’s position in it, looms giant over Ukraine, providing potential classes to Mr. Putin, analysts mentioned: that “pink traces” laid down by the West may be crossed with out main penalties; that diplomacy purportedly geared toward stopping violence can be utilized to distract from it; and that autocrats can do horrible issues and face worldwide sanctions — and nonetheless keep in energy.
A lot of the brutality Mr. al-Assad deployed to quash his foes was documented in actual time and spurred outrage that left many considering he may by no means get away with it.
He dispatched troopers and armed thugs to cease protests by locking up activists and firing stay ammunition into crowds. Because the opposition took up arms, his troops shelled, bombed and imposed hunger sieges on cities and neighborhoods that supported the rebels.
These actions killed giant numbers of civilians and despatched many extra fleeing for his or her lives. Greater than half of Syria’s prewar inhabitants was displaced throughout the warfare, and 5.7 million refugees stay exterior the nation.
In August 2013, Mr. al-Assad’s forces shocked the world by deploying chemical weapons on rebel-held cities close to the capital, Damascus, killing greater than 1,400 folks, U.S. officers mentioned.
Many Syrian anticipated that such a blatant violation of worldwide legislation would immediate Western navy intervention, particularly since President Barack Obama had known as using chemical weapons a “pink line.”
“I used to be certain we had witnessed one thing only a few folks had skilled earlier than, like those that witnessed Chernobyl or Hiroshima,” recalled Ibrahim Alfawal, 29, who survived the chemical assault and mentioned it had felt like “judgment day.”
However he was shocked when the USA didn’t intervene. Mr. al-Assad’s forces finally took management of the cities that had been gassed, seeming to pay no worth for his use of forbidden arms.
That appeared to point out that Mr. al-Assad may depend on impunity, Mr. Alfawal mentioned, and assaults by Syrian forces on civilian infrastructure — together with colleges, hospitals, neighborhoods and bakeries the place households had lined as much as purchase bread — solely escalated.
In 2015, Mr. Putin despatched Russian forces to assist Mr. al-Assad’s beleaguered military, and shortly Russian officers had been advising Syrian forces and Russian jets had been dropping bombs on Syrian cities — having fun with the identical impunity that Mr. al-Assad appeared to have.
In Ukraine, Russia has used disinformation campaigns just like these it pioneered in Syria, the place it falsely branded opposition activists as members of Al Qaeda and accused the rebels of launching the chemical assaults as “false flag” operations responsible the Syrian authorities.
“They’re taking the identical idea they utilized in Syria, to lie and to stay to it,” Mr. Alfawal mentioned of Russia’s strategy to Ukraine.
The chemical assaults in Syria continued. Along with two that killed giant numbers of individuals — within the village of Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 and east of Damascus in 2018 — there have been at the least 350 different assaults with chemical substances, in line with Tobias Schneider, a researcher on the International Public Coverage Institute in Berlin.
Most of these used chlorine, which isn’t categorized as a chemical weapon however can be utilized as such to terrify civilians and encourage them to flee.
Whereas no proof has surfaced that Russian forces used chemical weapons in Syria, researchers consider that Mr. Putin enabled Mr. al-Assad to take action.
“It’s completely sure that the Russian authorities at the least is aware of and sure facilitated using chemical weapons by the Syrians, largely chlorine assaults,” Mr. Schneider mentioned.
There aren’t any indications that chemical weapons have been utilized in Ukraine, however watching the warfare there, many Syrians see indicators that Mr. Putin is using components of the Syria playbook.
The Russians “are prepared to devour the inexperienced and the dry,” mentioned Radwan Alhomsy, a Syrian activist in southern Turkey, utilizing an Arabic idiom that means to destroy every little thing. “They don’t care in regards to the worldwide group or anything. We noticed that in Syria. Burning colleges isn’t new to us. It’s land they wish to take, and they’re going to take it.”
European analysts level out the variations between the wars in Syria and Ukraine that would result in completely different Western responses. Not like Mr. Putin, Mr. al-Assad fought to regain management of his personal nation, not take over one in all his neighbors. Not like Syria, Russia is a nuclear-armed energy, complicating the problem of navy intervention.
And whereas the USA and its European allies largely let Mr. al-Assad get away with utilizing chemical weapons within the Center East, Mr. Putin’s doing so on the European continent would probably trigger higher alarm and elicit a stiffer response.
“If Putin thinks that he’ll be handled like al-Assad, he’s improper as a result of he’s not al-Assad and this isn’t Syria” mentioned Patricia Lewis, director of the worldwide safety program at Chatham Home.
Nonetheless, Mr. Putin may take some solace from Mr. al-Assad’s survival: how the West went on mistakenly believing that Mr. al-Assad’s fall was unavoidable, and the way he has clung to energy regardless of sanctions which have strangled his economic system and impoverished his folks.
Emile Hokayem, a Center East analyst on the Worldwide Institute for Strategic Research, warned of two methods utilized in Syria that the Russians may make use of in Ukraine.
One was Russia’s engagement in worldwide diplomacy geared toward ending the violence as a manner of distracting the West from the warfare on the bottom. One other was the deliberate creation of a refugee disaster to bathroom down Europe and sap its assets.
“Making a humanitarian disaster is a part of the warfare technique, not a secondary impact, as a result of that is the way you shift the burden on to the opposite facet,” he mentioned.
Many Syrian refugees are watching the Ukraine warfare from impoverished camps throughout the Center East or from European cities the place they’re struggling to start out new lives.
Whereas some really feel bitter in regards to the heat proven to fleeing Ukrainians, the Syrians additionally recall their very own warfare, and hope the Ukrainians will fare higher than they did.
“We had been left alone to face our future,” mentioned Mansour Abu al-Kheir, who survived two chemical assaults east of Damascus earlier than fleeing as a refugee to southern Turkey. “I hope this gained’t occur to the Ukrainians.”
Cora Engelbrecht contributed reporting from London, and Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, Lebanon.