Here are some cruel facts about the siege of Ghouta. They have become buried in the real rubble and blood and the sham and apocalyptic expressions of horror from the West. The first and most important dimension to the siege was a remark by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who said on Monday that Moscow and the Syrian government “could deploy [in Ghouta] our experience of freeing Aleppo”. This single phrase – otherwise translated from the Russian as “draw from the lessons of Aleppo” – was regarded, when it was heeded at all, as a warning that Ghouta would be destroyed.
But the Russians spent many months, along with the Syrians, trying to arrange for the departure of Syrian civilians from eastern Aleppo before it was recaptured; after huge advances into the suburbs by Syrian troops, there was indeed an exodus of the innocent, in which armed opponents of the regime were also permitted to leave. Many were escorted by armed and uniformed Russian military police who took them to the Turkish border. Others preferred – rashly, no doubt – to move under escort to Idlib, the great provincial “dumping ground” for Islamist fighters and their families which is now, inevitably, also under siege.