Moldova: the forgotten in-between Russia and the EU

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The difficulty of the implementation of the EU’s Eastern Partnership is as we have witnessed that these countries constitute the so-called Russia’s “backyard”and for strategic and historical reasons, Russia is not willing to let go easily. The paradigmatic case was Ukraine in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, but Russian efforts to hinder  the post-soviet space relationship with the EU started years before.

Beyond the military means and political involvement, Russia has wielded its power in the form of economic sanctions and bans to imports and goods from the EaP countries. But Russia’s loss of power  is patent, recurrently in Ukraine and Georgia, both having left the Commonwealth of Independent States . The  republics’ eagerness to become close partners with the EU have resulted in Russian attempts to interfere in the countries’ political arena and processes; economy and trade relations through the use of a variety of means ranging from military and occupation to economic sanctions and trade bans.

But just like Georgia or Ukraine, the situation of Moldova has been an in-between position that cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration its causes and consequences, to be sure: state capture, structural poverty or a great migration crisis 

Moldova, as other post-soviet countries witnessed as well this state capture from the 1990’s, culminating in the so-called “billion-dollar theft”, the 2012-2014 theft of one-eighth of Moldova’s economy, which led to a few politically motivated arrests, but it has never been recovered. The same years, Moldova saw itself involved in the massive theft that became known as the “Russian Laundromat”, a scheme led by government officials and members of Moldova’s judiciary, who had moved $20.8 billion in funds stolen from the Russian treasury through Moldova’s banking system. The case is another example of how Moldovan regulators have been captured by corrupt interests and consistently fail to indict those responsible for large scale financial crimes.

Russian ambitions in the post-soviet space are nothing new. In Moldova, the situation is worsening as this path of post-soviet state capture is being transferred to Russian hands since the 2016 election of Igor Dodon: the audio-visual sector, the railway and even the international airport are slowly being financed (and thus controlled) by the Russian Federation. Energetic dependency gives further power to Russia in Moldova, as most of their gas comes from Russia, little diversified.

State capture has had its consequences on Moldova, as the Human Development Index of 2019 positions Moldova in the 107th place out of 189, making it the poorest country in the EU neighbourhood. Endemic corruption, the main consequence of normalised state capture for a long time now and the poverty created by this situation has made emigration levels an all-time high.

Despite the fact that Russia is slowly gaining political significance once again in Moldova, the European Union is still a close partner with the country. The Republic of Moldova is today between the East and the West, and each player, in particular Russia, have interests in the country.

Although often overlooked, the geopolitical implications of Moldova cannot be underestimated.

When silence does not make it better: US-Russia Nuclear Relations

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Today’s world faces numerous issues: crisis of liberalism, trade and economic wars between the major geopolitical rivals, populists and autocrats who hold their seats in parliaments and other governmental bodies. However, all those problems would become unimportant in case of another, not worldwide war, but a nuclear one.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there are 9 nuclear-weapon states in the world: five of them are under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), three of them are not, and one state -Israel-, is an undeclared nuclear state. The biggest amount of nuclear missiles are situated on the territory of the United States and Russia, making them their heritage from the Cold War. 

The nuclear policy of the two countries is as different as their approach to the foreign policy. On the one hand, Russia’s military doctrine, included in the 2010’s edition states that first of all, Russian government considers NATO and its enlargment as the main threat to the country. Secondly, the right to use the regular army on the territory of another state which poses a threat to the sovereignty of the country as well to the rights of russian-speaking citizens, and last but not the least, there is the fact that nuclear weapons may be used against the state which violates the sovereignty and poses a threat to Russia’s existence.

On the other hand, the United States remains the only country in the world which has used nuclear weapons against another state. Luckily, there have not been any other cases in world’s history. The Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 established that nuclear weapons may be used only in case of nuclear attack from another state, great losses among citizens and serious damages to infrastructure and central authorities. In this regard, as its opponents and threats  the US names Russia and North Korea.

Relations between Russia and the US in terms of nuclear policy are not easy. However, keeping in mind that nowadays Russia is a state under sanctions regardless of numerous attempts of Vladimir Putin to depict it as “a democratic state”, it is going to be difficult to continue the dialogue in the sphere of nuclear non-proliferation.

America’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty  and the denunciation of the INF Treaty  create a serious and dangerous precedent in the international relations. Moreover, the absence of  information on negotiations on the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty III  (START III) or the signing of a new treaty do not make that situation clearer. If after 2021 there is no extension of the existing treaty or a renewed one, then the parties will find themselves without any binding agreements in terms of strategic nuclear forces and it will create a legal – and dangerous- vacuum in their relations. 

Even if both states claim that it is impossible to use the preemptive strike, even if they are aware of the hazardous consequences of using nuclear forces, there is still a great need in for  dialogue between the US and Russia. After all, the economic problems, violation of human rights or climate issues would become totally irrelevant if nuclear weapons were used by any state.

Coronavirus: an affective understanding of global panic

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What started the 31st of December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China, as a Pneumonia of  unknown cause has turned to the newest highly contagious internationally spead 2019-nCoV (Coronavirus) in the first days of 2020. The Coronavirus crisis and consequent global panic follows other global public health crises related to outbreaks of diseases such as SARS in 2003, Zika in 2015, Ebola in 2014-2016  or MERS in 2012( both provoking deaths in parts of Asia and Africa still today).

Understanding global panic is hard in many ways.  Some  commentators have highlighted the side of the politics of fear, a mainstream  comprehension of fear understood as a tool of governance positing in this case China as a geography of fear inspired by an event which has a global reach.  From this reading, fearmongering  is used by big media outlets and politicians, speading fear and making people vulnerable to certain restrictive measures, against the WHO’s Eemergency Commitee recommendations, like we are seeing: border closure, travel bans and so on. In this regard conceptualising global panic just in these terms is purely self-explanatory: it all ends in irrationality, precaution measures and controlling masses.

But I propose another understanding, from the conceptualisation that has been made from  affective theory. Very briefly, affective theory proposes  ‘to examine the ways in which feelings can (re)produce dominant social and geo-political hierarchies and exclusions’

From affective theory, and particularly within the frame of one of its proponents, Sara Ahmed, we can read global panic and understand how affect is embedded in China, coronavirus (re)marking it a geography of fear, and the Chinese, the bodies to fear (or hate), once again. For Ahmed, affect and emotions (fear,hate, love) are cumulative, just like any form of capital, and thus has its historical development. From European colonization of Chinese land to the yellow peril , to the fear of China and its rise to great power status, to the current Coronavirus situation, there is a continuum in what Ahmed refers to as affective economy.

There is no doubt that particular contexts and situations provoke a certain reading of those bodies affected, in particular when an outbreak of a disease is where those geographies and those bodies are located and already marked; marked different from European, Chinese and China circulates as an “other”- like this very case: a non-clean other, an infected other.  Emotions of fear transform into hate, which circulates  then easily, getting attached to anybody of  perceived similar characteristics despite all other circumstances. This attachment will provoke then new affect, accumulating to the one that is there, and moving forwards to (re)produce perceptions of Asian peoples and Asian geogrpahies.

To be sure, Coronavirus creates the best opportunity for the reintensification of discourses that are already enrooted in large parts of societies. In this case the campaign  launched by Asian peoples #imnotavirus #jenesuispasunvirus #yonosoyunvirus is relevant to understand rise of racism from affective theory. At the same time the travel bans (particularly in the US), disruptions in Asian markets and in key economic areas or even Taiwan trying to take political advantage of the situation respond to similar affective logics, nontheless expressed differently depending on the politics, history, and contexts that shape particular perceptions of China and its peoples.

Finally, this reading does not oppose others, but can help in explaining beyond “precaution” or “risk” how affect circulates, why are some measures imposed and wonder if there would have been such cases of racism against peoples from Asia in Europe had it been an European outbreak.







They are all evil: Trump’s “Vision” of Peace and Prosperity.

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Yesterday, Donald Trump, in the middle of his very own process of impeachment, announced his Middle East Plan, the so-called “deal of the century” negotiated with Israel without the Palestinians, and as Netanyahu is under investigation for fraud and bribery charges. Beyond this move -both on the US and Israel labeled as “distraction”  from the ongoing internal proceedings regarding the political future of the president and prime minister respectively- the deal of the century carries material consequences for the lives of the Palestinians living under Israel occupation and settler colonialism. 

Some commentators have suggested that the Peace to Prosperity Vision 2020 (“Vision”) echoes the situation of 1917 and the Balfour Declaration, leaving again the Palestinians out of the negotiation table on their own homeland and further ignoring their opposition to it. Highly unlikely, Trump might think that he is actually doing a favor to the Palestinians and that with this Vision, both him and Netanyahu are really approaching a solution to the conflict. Received amidst mixed reactions, it is convenient to highlight and analyze some of the most remarkable comments within the document.

Palestinians are likely to be terrorists, especially in Gaza. The document states throughout that all Palestinian leaders and authorities are terrorists. Most of the population might be as well. Among other examples: “Gaza is a very complicated situation. It is under the control of Hamas, a terrorist organization, and, as a result of Hamas’ policies, is approaching a humanitarian crisis. It is time to help the Palestinians achieve a hopeful and prosperous future(…)” (p.2). The same idea is spread out, at least the word terrorism linked to Palestinians and their leaders is mentioned 40 times.

Of course, this thinking does at least two things. Firstly, it delegitimizes Palestinians and pictures them as evil terrorists that are constantly threatening Israel. The “Vision” literally states that “A realistic solution would give the Palestinians all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel“. The consequence is, therefore, “limitation of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas such as maintenance of Israeli security responsibility and Israeli control of the airspace west of the Jordan River”.

Secondly, by picturing Israel as a legitimate state under threat, the politics of settler colonialism, aggression, and other atrocities are easily overlooked. In Gaza, these politics have involved over the years, and with the support of the United States, the bombing of key infrastructure in the strip, including hospitals and schools; years of blockades and electricity cuts, hindering access to humanitarian aid, the cutting of funds by the US to the USAid in the region and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Although the document makes a great effort in trying to depict the US as the Palestinian savior while highlighting all the advantages the Palestinians will benefit from,  one might ask whose peace and whose prosperity is this plan referring to. Certainly not to the party that being the most affected by it, has not been included in the negotiation.


Peace is as far as ever for Libya

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The continued fighting taking place in Libya between the two local forces competing for power and their apparent inability or unwillingness to cooperate has put the country in the middle of what has become a complex international conflict with no future positive prospects.

With a growing international fear about the Libyan conflict, world leaders have gathered in Berlin to try and find a way to end the fighting between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Saraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The conference’s aim was to get foreign powers to stop intervening in the war, to uphold an arms embargo and to nominate a UN ceasefire monitoring body – but concerns over the unwillingness to abide by these agreements are ever-growing.

With the intervention of foreign powers in the conflict, the conflict in Libya can no longer be seen as a binary Haftar vs Tripoli one. Among other parties, the GNA has the support of Turkey and Syrian rebel militants and the LNA has the support of Russia and its military private contractors as well as Sudanese militias. Since 2011, Libya has been the clear example of continued foreign interference and therefore consequent fragmentation of the security sector in Libya but also in the already fragile region.

In a parliamentary vote, Turkey decided to come to the aid of the GNA, which was followed by the deployment of Turkish troops and an additional 2,000 Syrian fighters. On the other side, the LNA is receiving support from Sudanese rebel groups from Darfur, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) together with the Russian private military contractor Wagner. Adding more fighting factions to a conflict is like adding oil to the fire –  the presence of these forces has been met with clashes between local militias or minorities and the foreign militias.

The participation of external proxy forces with both the GNA and the LNA not only shows the fragility of states in the region but also their reliance on foreign manpower and therefore the exacerbation of the conflict. Thus, it is evident that peace in Libya depends on foreign actors’ readiness to give room for alternative political manoueuvres.

Until we see an end to meaningless and precarious foreign presence, meddling and financing, there will be no meaningful political talks that will pull Haftar from Tripoli and therefore peace will remain highly improbable.

The Iraqi Dilemma: Between Geography and Diplomacy

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Over the past forty years Iraq has had military conflicts with both Iran and the US, and those wars have brought nothing but political instability, economic crisis and death to Iraq.

Iraq – Iran war: On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran and started a devastating war that would last eight years, involved several countries and created instability in the Middle East for decades to come.

US invasion of Iraq: In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and, after a couple months, US forces overthrew the government and captured and later executed Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein. The US’s occupation of Iraq proved to be a disaster. The Iraqi government put in place by Washington was too weak to control its own territory, leaving a vacuum of power in the country that was soon filled by violent militias and extremist groups, including the newly created ISIS.

Despite its difficult situation, over the past years, Iraq has managed to regain control of its major cities, push back ISIS, rebuild its oil industry ,and has been taking steps to solidify its newly formed democratic institutions. However, the Iraqi government has had to deal with a very complicated geopolitical scenario.

It has had to struggle to maintain its sovereignty, to improve its relationship with Iran (its most important neighbor) and to manage its military and economic relationship with the US. This dilemma has shaped Iraqi diplomacy and, today, Iraq’s diplomatic efforts are of utmost importance in order to avoid another conflict which the country will probably not be able to endure. As stated by Iraqi president Barham Salih  The United States is our ally. Iran is our neighbor”.

Nevertheless,  the assassination of Qassem Suleimani -a pillar in Iran’s foreign policy- has made Iraq the main stage in the conflict between the US and Iran. The US drone attack that killed Suleimani was conducted without the knowledge of the Iraqi government, violating its sovereignty and leaving the country in a very delicate situation. Iraq cannot afford to take sides in the dispute without jeopardizing its survival and overall the regional stability.

Politically, the government has to manage a divided parliament between Shiite – majority and close to Iran – and Sunni – minority and opposed to Iran – as well as pressure from both sides to limit each other’s influence in the country.

If Iran and the US keep escalating their war games and refuse to sit down at the negotiating table, the regional consequences would be disastrous for the Middle East and Iraq. Among other, the scenarios could go from  an US intervention in order to protect its regional interests to competition for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran creating more proxy wars in the region and an increase in the intensity of Israel’s conflict against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine both militia groups backed by Iran.

Iraq must at all cost avoid alienating either the US or Iran. Baghdad will have to push for a a diplomatic solution in order to deescalate the conflict, because war will be unbearable for both Iraq and the region.

The US-Iran 2020 mess

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We are not even through the middle of the first month of 2020, and it is already too much to bear for Iran. On January 3rd the US forces, on the soil of Iraq, killed their top general Soleimani. Following the killing that came more or less as a surprise to the international community, Iran proclaimed American forces to be terrorist (what a turning point, ha?) and shot some missiles to two US military bases, again on the soil of Iraq. But nothing is as clear as it seems. Who is to be trusted when talking about the results of this attack? Iran claims to have fired 15 missiles and killed at least 80 ‘American terrorists’. On the other hand, the US and Iraq reported no casualties. Iran pulled itself out of the nuclear deal. The US introduced sanctions. The international community has taken a rather soft stance towards the development of the situation. And as if it all were not messy enough, Iran accidentally shot down a commercial flight and left 176 people dead.

Although some claimed that Iran missile shot down the plane and even videos of the crash were released (but who could claim they were to be trusted), for a couple of days Iran rejected these allegations, but refused to give over the black box to Boeing. In the wake of January 11th, Iran admitted shooting down the Ukrainian commercial flight by mistake. The citizens of Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Britain and Germany are all dead due to ‘human error’.

Things like this don’t just happen. But sometimes they do. In 1988, a commercial flight was shot down by accident, because it was mistaken for an F-14 Tomcat. The plane was Iranian, a commercial flight 655, carrying 290 people. The attackers were American, fired from a guided-missile cruiser of the US Navy.

In 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down when flying over Ukraine, from the pro-Russian separatist controlled territory and by the Russian missile brigade. In total 298 people died. In 2018, a Russian surveillance plane was shot down by Syrian forces accidentally, leaving 15 people dead. There are more examples since the WW2. But all this raises the question of responsibility.

Human error is inevitable in various situations. However, usually when a human error occurs, it has bad consequences. Who is to be held responsible in situations like this? Is it the very person that shot the missile? Is it his superiors? Are the people who did not clear the airspace during and shortly after the attack?  Milgram’s explanations of obedience could provide an insight to this matter. It is now a commonplace in social psychology, the diffusion of responsibility and the agentic state. One exempts himself from responsibility when having entered the agentic state, which is characterised by unquestioning obedience. In this state, personal responsibility is transferred to the person giving orders, i.e. the superior. That is why mostly higher military instances are trialed for war misdeeds.

This is a normal behaviour that is characteristic for all people, although some can resist it but only if having high levels of consciousness at the given moment. That is, unfortunately, not common for military forces since they are trained to be obedient. This is not to justify any of the shooting downs of the wrong targets. This is to explain where it should be looked for responsibility. IRGC Amir Ali Hajizadeh is well aware of this and he took responsibility for this incident. However, the mess is getting bigger in Iran, with the protests against government due to the crash.

Errors like this must be avoided. This collateral damage is at the hands of ordinary people. It may just be too much to carry the weight of it.

Watch Out for the Sultan – Erdoğan in Libya

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The unprecedented escalation in Iran following the assassination of military mastermind Qassem Suleimani by one of Donald’s drones overshadowed another highly interesting development in the Middle East lately getting a new spin: Turkey entering the conflict in Libya.

With this step, that explicitly is at odds with the advices of many other stakeholders in “a failed state par excellence”, as observers say, not least the Arab League, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shows his claim to great power status.

This action appears in line with Erdoğan’s (over)confident self-perception of Turkey being a rising power that urges for its share in a multipolar world and is willing to apply blunt power politics whenever and wherever necessary.

Previous actions by his neo-Ottoman Excellency underline that. Be it infrastructural mega projects like the construction of Istanbul’s new airport, the first road tunnel under the Bosporus, or his newest desire, a canal through Istanbul. Be it his increasingly authoritarian rule finding its expression in press censorship, a purge targeting intellectuals, or his hunt for political opponents from both the Gülen Movement and the left-wing party HDP.

Yet, his attempts of showing off with his power have an international scope, too. Libya, where Turkey’s engagement did not just start last week, in that respect lines up in a row with Northern Syria, where Erdoğan tried to kill two birds with one stone. Pursuing a buffer zone to the war-torn neighbor to resettle refugees residing in Turkey coincided with a military warning to his archenemy, the Kurds, being home in and around that very region. Besides, Turkey made demands on natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, by heating up the Cyprus conflict, Europe’s longest frozen conflict.

Now, one might jump to the conclusion of perceiving Turkey as nothing but becoming another dubious Middle Eastern autocracy, but beware! This is far from reality. Ankara is the pivotal element of many conflicts in the region and thus of crucial interest to the international community.

It is Turkey that keeps myriads of refugees from entering Europe. The end shall not justify the means, though Turkey thereby effectively does the EU’s dirty laundry. It too is Turkey that sits at the table with Russia and Iran negotiating about how to bring an end to the war in Syria. This triangle can be considered the forum that is most likely to achieve this goal. And Turkey is the most pro-Western member, being part of NATO and, yet with neglectable prospects for success, EU candidate country. At the same time, Ankara is the gateway from Europe to the Middle East, not least being a member of the OIC.

Bearing this in mind, the international, particularly European, community shall have a critical but conscious look at Turkey that repeatedly and insistently shows it is not willing to be a mere passive actor of the fight for hegemony in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The whole world focusing on Tehran in those days might open the back door for the sultan.

Don’t Jinx It! Guterres, Multilateralism, and the Lesson Being Learnt from 2019

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New Year’s speeches of state leaders are dollars to doughnuts. And so are teasing statements within them kicking off controversial debates. This year Turkey’s strongman Erdoğan with his claims on Libya, and Little Rocket Man Kim Jong Un, who decided to cancel the annual address upstaged Xi Jinping. He was expected to make clearer statements on the hot Hong Kong issue but stayed diplomatic in sticking to broader economic claims instead.

Likewise appeared the speech of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His address did not make it to the headlines. His very humble call for the youth to keep its political action appears to be of utmost importance. Yet, no TV channel in the world would interrupt its program for breaking news because of this insight. Now, why then having a look at it?

The interesting part is in what Guterres left unsaid. A year ago, the leader of THE world organization was speaking of “proving our worth through action”. Obviously, it does not appear convenient at the stage of world politics to publicly admit that the own state or organization, respectively, did not achieve its announced goals. And, sadly enough, this holds for most of the high expectations Guterres fueled back then. Powering ahead with the Sustainable Development Goals? After a fashion, if we turn one blind eye to it. Diplomatically overcoming the deadlocks in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan? Failed, even when turning both blind eyes to it.

Though, naysaying the entire year of the United Nation’s work would be unfair. The speech of 2020 alone tells us a lot about what the organization’s head seemingly learned.

Without giving up on multilateralism and diplomacy, Guterres cleverly shifted the attention from political summits to the world society with the youth being its spearhead. This is very smart in many ways. Firstly, he does not pass the buck to young people, as critics might say. On the contrary, young engaged people all over the globe fight for political action that is way overdue anyway. Secondly, by encouraging them he  got other parts of the society on board, too. Thirdly, in not addressing the state leaders, he did not hold the diplomatic gun to their head; and fourthly, he released the UN itself from renewed expectations it could not meet.

It might become true now what has been said about Guterres when entering office three years ago. He is an honest broker, well-known for deal making. If it was his objective to step back from unattainable goals without putting feasible ideas that might not suit the political zeitgeist in those days out of his mind, one should congratulate him to his puristic New Year’s speech. At a later (hopefully not too late!) stage the UN now can be taken more serious as a broker than it could when repeatedly failing its self-defined tests.

Guterres shifted and invited to share responsibility instead of shuffling it off. He thereby learned from both, his own mistakes and the ones of the neo-authoritarian anti-multilateralists crowding the conference rooms and presidential palaces. Kicking off controversial debates is up to them; it is not the UN Secretary-General’s cup of tea.

New Year, New Crisis

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Syria is once again, submerged in chaos since the latest US withdrawal of its troops and consequent Turkish incursion through Syria’s northern border. A new chain of events has further destabilized the situation in the country and will continue to do so as we enter the new decade.

A recent de-escalation agreement sponsored by Turkey and Assad’s ally Russia has been overlooked and a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Syrian north-western region of Idlib. Syrian and Russian forces have been indiscriminately bombarding the final major opposition-held bastion of Syria since mid-December. Barrel bombs and air strikes have been hitting civilian infrastructure in Idlib with the aim of forcing out civilians and rebel forces and gaining control of the area.

The deadly bombings have killed dozens and forced 235,000 people to flee parts of the Idlib province towards other parts of the country, creating a new refugee crisis. Idlib is home to an estimated 3 million people, many of them who are already refugees displaced from other areas of the country during the nine years of violence. Refugee camps are already overcrowded so people are living in the open, struggling to find food, shelter and medicine. Schools and hospitals have been targeted, making it impossible to satisfy basic human needs such as education or healthcare.

Aid agencies warn that the situation is untenable, but Assad insists that the civil war will not be over until Damascus retakes ‘every inch’ of Syria. Regaining control of the Idlib territory would allow Assad to control the whole country. So as government forces move forward and bombings intensify, civilians flee up north to the Syrian-Turkish border, creating further security and humanitarian issues – so an end to the conflict would still be very unlikely.

Civilians have been completely abandoned as the international community and its most powerful nations have turned their backs to the war-torn country. China and Russia have vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have allowed more humanitarian aid flowing into Idlib. What is left to do is to condemn the situation through Twitter posts, but world leaders are running out of words of condemnation while the situation continues to worsen every day.

This passivity of the international community towards the Syrian conflict is at the expense of thousands of Syrians who have been abandoned. If after 9 years of conflict, what seems to be one of the worst humanitarian crises the country has seen is not enough for the international community to act – then what is?