With no end in sight for the siege of Aleppo, Syria, the United Kingdom and the United States are now considering sanctions against Russia and Syria. The continued bombing has left the historic city in ruins and hundreds killed. The West hopes this new diplomatic effort will help bring the war to an end.
The situation in Syria is complicated, to say the least. France, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States support the moderate rebel groups who wish to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. However, the United States is reluctant to provide any advanced weaponry to these rebels. The reluctance is mainly due to their ties with extremist groups.
Assad has the support of both Russia and Iran. Russian airstrikes and ground bombardments allowed pro-Assad forces to regain control of the western part of the city. The rebels, with an incredible force of 10,000 troops, hold the eastern part. However, it is important to recognize that 250,000 civilians are also within the city. Two of the most recent airstrikes killed at least 36 people. Staffan de Mistura, who is the United Nations special envoy to Syria, warns that the city of Aleppo will be reduced to rubble by December if nothing is done to stop the bombing.
Russia and Syria announced a temporary ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged city. Aleppo was only allowed eight hours of relief, which the United Nations estimated was not enough time to reach the rebel-held sectors of the city.
The European Union criticized Russia for vetoing a resolution that called for an end to the bombing of Aleppo. It claimed that the actions of Russia and the Assad regime have only escalated the conflict within the region and stated that these actions amount to war crimes.
All options are on the table to stop the bloodshed, but any military action is a drastic step. The Obama administration has already stated that any strikes on Assad’s forces are out of the question. Sanctions are the only viable option left; some have already been put in place.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “The EU has targeted more than 200 top Syrian political and military officials with an asset freeze and travel ban, including President Bashar al-Assad. It has also placed sanctions on sectors of the economy, including an oil embargo and targeted almost 70 companies with an asset freeze.”
The sanctions will create dents in people’s pockets. When, in 2014, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia over Russia’s actions in Crimea, the Russian economy shrunk by 5 percent. These sanctions were not designed to push the Russians over the edge, but to give them an incentive to take a pause. An example of sanctions that were primarily designed to push a nation over the edge were the sanctions placed on Iran for its nuclear program.
The sanctions to Iran caused enormous damage to the country’s economy. First, they caused rapid inflation, with the Central Bank of Iran reporting an inflation rate of 22 percent. Unemployment rates rose to 35 percent as businesses needed money to import vital raw materials and goods. Iranians saw the U.S. dollar as a safer investment than the local currency, the Iranian rial. Soon, Iranians started to demand dollars from banks around the country. The government had to place restrictions prohibiting the trade of rials for dollars.
This eventually led Iran to the negotiating table, which then led to the historic but controversial nuclear deal between Iran and the West. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that the United States has restarted communication with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two chief backers. These talks include other major players in the Middle East, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The chances that these agreements will end the bombings in Aleppo are slim. Sanctions take time for their effects to be felt and recognized. Even the sanctions that decimated Iran’s economy took time to take effect and push the Iranians to negotiate.
The situation in Aleppo is dire. Two hundred thousand civilians are caught in the crossfire with no escape and little aid in sight. The United States and the European Union need to take a more aggressive stance against Russia and Assad if any meaningful progress is to be made to help the besieged city.