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Syria under pressure

Syria under pressure

Syria's civil war, which began in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and forced more than 11 million from their homes. Many of the displaced are now in Europe, Turkey, Jordan, or other neighboring countries. The Syrian economy today is a third of its pre-war size.

But the government of Bashar-al Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, remains in power and controls about two-thirds of Syrian territory, much of that recaptured from rebels. Most of the rest of the country's land is occupied by US-backed Kurds, Turkey's army, or jihadis.


Now life is becoming harder still inside Syria. Its economy is in freefall. Syria's currency is worth so little that some now use bank notes to roll cigarettes. Prices for food and medicine have soared so far beyond the reach of most people that protesters have hit the streets in places where demonstrators are often shot. Assad's government has blocked reliable information on coronavirus infections and deaths. The ongoing financial crisis next door in Lebanon makes matters worse by denying Syria's government one of its remaining bridges to outside cash.

Meanwhile, President Assad is now waging war on his cousin Rami Makhlouf, one of Syria's richest men, for refusing to help bankroll the government with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars he's believed to have amassed over the years through state connections. Makhlouf is fighting back by using Facebook to launch a barrage of online attacks on the government.

But the worst news for Syria this week comes from new US sanctions. The Caesar Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, led to the imposition of new penalties this week on:

  • those who provide financial, material or technological support to the Syrian government,
  • foreigners inside Syria working for the governments of Syria, Russia or Iran,
  • those who help Syria produce oil and gas or buy military hardware,
  • those who contract with the Syrian government for reconstruction in areas controlled by the government and its backers.

The president's wife is named in the legislation as a war profiteer.

The act, named for the pseudonym of a photographer who escaped Syria with more than 50,000 photos proving government torture and murder, will certainly make life harder for the Assad regime.

But by cutting off Syria from international funding for badly needed postwar reconstruction, the "Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act" risks hurting the Syrian people it is meant to help.

The Caesar Act raises an age-old policy question: Is it possible to craft sanctions that effectively undermine autocratic regimes without hurting their citizens? At a time of deepening economic crisis in Syria, getting that balance wrong could soon have serious consequences for the people these measure are meant to "protect."

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The United States has never been more divided, and it's safe to say that social media's role in our national discourse is a big part of the problem. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher doesn't see any easy fix. "I don't know how you fix the architecture of a building that is just purposely dangerous for everybody." Swisher joins Ian Bremmer to talk about how some of the richest companies on Earth, whose business models benefit from discord and division, can be compelled to see their better angels. Their conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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