Since the war on Ukraine started, many people have drawn various parallels between Ukraine and Syria, including questioning whether the Syrian war received as much world attention as it deserved. I am far from qualified to comment on this topic, but I asked a recent co-panelist, Patrick Keenan, about Russian military actions in Syria; the evidence about any war crimes that were committed; and the state of any charges brought. Patrick Keenan is a professor of law at the University of Illinois and an expert in human rights and international law. I’m publishing his reply with his permission. Please read it carefully (and check out the links) because it is not only informative about what Russia did in Syria but also portends what may happen in Ukraine in the next few days/weeks/months (and hopefully not years).

“Sadly there’s a lot of evidence about Russia’s actions in Syria but it hasn’t gotten much attention.

There has been a war in Syria between the government and various rebels since 2011. It started as a revolt against the government but turned into a war that has devastated civilians. Russia and Iran are the Syrian government’s main allies in the war. Russia has carried out scores of airstrikes in Syria, many targeting civilians. Their approach has been indiscriminate, meaning they don’t really try to distinguish between legitimate combatant targets and civilians and civilian infrastructure. This article from the New York Times does a good job documenting Russian airstrikes on hospitals in Syria. This report from Human Rights Watch also documents the campaign of Russian (and Syrian) attacks against civilians that basically razed Aleppo and places in Idlib province. This report from Amnesty International does the same thing. Here’s a report from the UN that also documents many of the same atrocities. Russia has consistently blocked any attempts by the UN to more thoroughly investigate these crimes or refer them to the International Criminal Court. (It’s also important to note that the US has also carried out airstrikes in Syria and has been credibly accused of killing civilians).

What’s really worrisome is that Russia seems to be starting to take the same approach in Ukraine. And I would guess that Russia is going to be doing a lot of these attacks in and around Kyiv in the next few days. There are reports that Russia is planning a major assault on Kyiv in the next 1-3 days. Because Russian ground forces haven’t been doing well, it has increasingly started to rely on airstrikes. If what Russia has done in Syria and the way it attacked civilians in Chechnya and in Georgia are any indication of what’s to come, it’s very frightening for Kyiv.”

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