Russia plays up role as peacemaker, donor in Syria

DAR AL KABIRAH, Syria: At a mobile medical clinic in central Syria’s Homs province, a Russian doctor takes an elderly woman’s blood pressure.
Nearby, his colleague examines a dazed teenager on a gurney.
“Take half a pill in the morning and the second half at night,” the Russian doctor tells the woman through a translator.
The pop-up facility outside rebel-held Dar al Kabira in central Syria is one of several medical units deployed by Moscow, which has remained a close ally of President Bashar al Assad throughout the six-year conflict.
Russia began an air war in support of Assad in 2015, swinging the conflict in his favour, but it is now increasingly seeking to depict itself as a peacemaker and humanitarian donor in the war-devastated country.
The evidence is on clear display near Dar al Kabira, where Russia is monitoring a “de-escalation zone” between government and rebel forces agreed in August.
Last week, civilians from both sides could be seen queueing in separate lines to get sacks of food bearing the slogan “Russia is with you!”
Russian army Colonel Alexander Sazonov, head of the Dar al Kabira checkpoint, said the buffer zone had been set up two months ago and was already improving the situation for civilians.
“Before, there was no medical aid for five years, and people couldn’t meet their loved ones,” Sazonov said, during a tightly controlled press tour organised by the Russian military.
The zone in Homs province is part of a deal agreed in May by Russia, Iran and Turkey to create four “de-escalation” areas in Syria.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 330,000 people since it began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, and it has wrecked the country’s economy. Fighting, damage to infrastructure and the use of siege tactics have plunged parts of the population into poverty and created food and medical shortages.
Sazonov says about 10 tonnes of aid are distributed weekly at Dar al Kabira, insisting that “we would like there to be more aid”.
“But right now Russia is the only one doing any of this.”
Russian trucks marked “Help to Syria from Russia” shuttled in aid packages containing sugar, grain and canned meat.
“From here it’s about 500 metres to the fighters,” Sazonov said.
“If you’re not a fighter with blood on your hands, you can go in and out.”
Residents crossing from the Syrian government side of the checkpoint had their belongings and IDs checked before hurrying through.
Nawaf Ramadan, a local resident, had arrived from the government side to collect a sack of food. — AFP