Trump has since spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has praised in the past. Details from Trump’s team on the conversations were sparse, but Putin’s spokesman said the Russian leader and Trump share a “phenomenally similar” outlook on foreign policy. On Tuesday, Senator John McCain from Arizona, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement warning Trump against becoming too close to Putin: “At the very least,” McCain said, “the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people. That is an unacceptable price for a great nation.” The “reset” to which he referred was the ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the Obama administration six years ago to mend relations with Moscow.
Putin’s spokesman made it seem as if the Russian president and Trump were in alignment when it came to foreign policy, and had agreed “to join forces against the common enemy number one: international terrorism and extremism.”
But one of the largest terrorist threats, the Islamic State, has no presence in Aleppo, so the city’s bombardment isn’t about removing the group from Syria. Aleppo is essentially a mass of half-smashed buildings and streets coated in the gray dust of rubble, and the people who’ve remained behind are the holdouts of five years of brutal war—the kind who say they will never leave, and who still send their children to school every day.
When the war began in March 2011, Aleppo was Syria’s commercial hub. The civil war started at the height of the Arab Spring and has pit the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, the Shia militia group from Lebanon, against rebel groups that range in ideology from leftist to Islamist. Many, but not all, of these groups are backed by the U.S. and other Western countries, as well as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and other regional players. ISIS and groups linked to al-Qaeda are also involved in the fight against Assad. Although the Western nations and Russia are on opposite sides of the conflict, they both, separately, target these two groups and their affiliates.
Both the Syrian government and rebels want Aleppo, which has been divided since 2014. Rebels control eastern Aleppo, which Russia and Syria are targeting. Western Aleppo is under Assad’s control, and the government releases videos showing residents enjoying normal life. In the last year, with Russia’s help, Assad has taken back many of the areas ceded to the rebels and now appears more firmly in charge of Syria than at any point since the civil war began.
Humanitarian groups say Assad frequently targets public markets, mosques, and medical centers. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) estimates that since 2011 more than 700 medical staff have been killed in attacks in Syria, and more than 250 medical facilities bombed. The city is also running out of simple goods like food, water, and medical supplies, and aid agencies say the 250,000 civilians holed up inside are in grave danger.