The Russia World Cup: A Smokescreen for Atrocities?

The aftermath of a bombing raid over Homs, Syria, in 2012. Freedom House under a Creative Commons Licence

While excitement grows about England’s progress in the World Cup, Russia is dropping bombs on homes, markets and hospitals in southwest Syria, reports Portsmouth-based writer and activist Nicholas Sebley.

The strategy is called ‘depopulation’: President Assad and his Russian backers realise that they can’t win back the loyalties of these Syrian civilians, and so are instead forcing them to flee by indiscriminately shelling residential areas. The Syrian regime has been pursuing this strategy from 2012 onwards and it is the primary reason why over 6 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Germany, Austria and other countries. It is the main cause of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ that has destabilised the EU and led to the rise of race-baiting populists like Farage, Salvini and Trump.

Here are five points worth noting about the current atrocities:

  1. As a result of this latest bombing, 320,000 Syrian civilians have fled to the borders of Jordan and Israel.
  2. Both countries have said their borders are closed and will remain closed.
  3. The area recently bombed is a ‘de-escalation’ zone, that in 2017 all parties, including Assad and Russia, agreed to cease violence inside.
  4. The UN and US were supposed to underwrite that agreement but are doing nothing to stop this flagrant violation.
  5. In fact, the US’ main ally in the region, Israel, has green-lighted this Russian attack in exchange for a pledge from Assad and Putin that Iranian forces do not enter its border regions.

Are we really at a stage of moral decline where imperial powers treat the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people – like you and me – as worthless? Where rich men in suits can order the starvation, bombing and murder of vast numbers of impoverished civilians?

And whilst this happens, those who could speak out, instead tune out and watch football?

Is it a coincidence that Russia broke this ceasefire agreement three weeks ago just after the tournament began? Or is this spectacle, and our desire to watch the artistry and drama of the beautiful game, being used as cover for mass murder?

My answer: watch the games and protest the killings. Don’t say silent. Share this article. Phone (or email) the Russian Embassy and tell them what you think. Or leave (polite) comments on their social media. Follow Syria Solidarity UK on here and Twitter. Also, urge Jordan to open its borders via this Amnesty petition.

It might feel like you have no power, that the above are only small, ineffectual actions, but one thing we know for sure is that Russia is very sensitive to criticism. Like all regimes built on gangsterism and ressentiment, it really wants ‘respect’ and underneath all the bluster is a deep insecurity. If it wants to use the World Cup as cover for bombing refugees and families then it is gambling on you not caring enough to speak out. Show them you aren’t that amoral.

Public outrage, if there is enough of it, works: at the very least it will encourage Israel and Jordan to open their borders.

Actions you can take:

Contact these countries:
Russian Embassy London: 0207 229 6412;

Jordanian Embassy London: 0207 937 3685;
(Please be polite, Jordan has taken 1+ million Syrian refugees already.)

Sign this Amnesty petition asking Jordan to open their border.

Israeli Embassy London: 0207 957 9500;

US Embassy: 0207 499 9000; website

Join/follow Syria Solidarity UK on Facebook/Twitter

Start your own action/protest, film it, and upload it to web.

Image used under a Creative Commons licence.