Freeing Raqqa from ISIS in October was widely welcomed by western media and capitals, but it received a cold response from Damascus and Teheran, as well as accusations of "barbaric bombing" from Moscow. Russia's Defence Ministry even compared the air campaign to the 1945 Allied Forces bombing of Dresden.
What happened in Raqqa is however similar to the battle of Aleppo, in late 2016, when Russian fighter jets bombed the city day and night, which facilitated the victory of the Syrian forces and their allies. During that campaign, Washington accused Russia of war crimes and "barbarism", while Russia said it was liberating the city from Al Qaeda.
The comparison between the two events can summarize the Syrian drama. Apart from all its internal and regional problems, Syria is also a victim of great powers politics, their agreements, and disagreements. Last year, the United States and Russia reached a consensus and a ceasefire was announced. For a few days, Syrians enjoyed peace. But the deal quickly collapsed, and bombs poured.
Both countries blamed each other's proxies for the end of the ceasefire, and while diplomatic accusations made the headlines, dozens of Syrians were dying. And Moscow's charges against Washington today are almost a word-for-word response to last year's accusations to Russia from Washington. The diplomatic blame game can fill the headlines, but it does not solve the problem.
In the Syrian war, as in any war, propaganda outlets design some groups as heroic, and others as terrorists. It is happening on the two sides of the frontline. In reality, the real heroes are the weaker elements, the ones that few people talk or care about. In Syria, both Washington and Moscow committed violence, and the groups they support have killed tens of thousands of people.
The wrestling between the United States and Russia should end, as it has exhausted both countries, while it has contributed in destroying the country that was once Syria. With the weakening of ISIS and Al Qaeda, it is possible to find a compromise with the remaining militias operating in Syria, be it the "armed opposition", or the different armed movements allied to the Assad regime.The two superpowers in charge of the Middle East, i.e. the US and Russia, should delegate some of their powers to the United Nations mission in order to have a comprehensive dialogue and establish a peaceful transitional plan for Syria. They will probably face many spoilers, but that will allow them to play the role they deserve: that of superpowers imposing rules for the good of the world, not of gangsters' godfathers competing over immediate gains.