The Syrian regime thought it was finally out of the woods in its almost decade-long civil war. It recaptured southern Syria in 2018 and has pushed up against US forces along the Euphrates. It has launched offensives into Idlib with Russian and Iranian backing.
In October 2019 the Turkish attack on US-backed anti-ISIS fighters even enabled the regime to take over parts of eastern Syria. Shops are now closed in parts of the country, people are trying to hoard foodstuffs and agricultural harvest. From a pre-2011 exchange of some 50 Syrian pounds to the dollar, the rate now appears to be 1,920 pounds to the dollar – almost 40 times as much.
But the regime is gutted and weak. It has no finances and is fighting internally with family feuds within the Assad ruling clan. That means it is like a house of cards: very fragile. Russia can’t save the regime from everything.
Russia also has economic challenges and is involved in the Libyan conflict. New US sanctions and other problems are now causing Damascus to see a catastrophic weakening of the Syrian currency. The precipitous decline also harms Syrians who are not under regime control. These already poor people in eastern Syria, where the US has influence, are now suffering. Syrians in northern Syria, under Turkey’s control, are also suffering.
This illustrates that even when the conflict seems to be winding down – and Russia, Iran and Turkey increasingly work to partition Syria and drive the US out – unforeseen new crises emerge. Rumors about Iran moving troops around and Hezbollah threatening Israel illustrate how Syria is still in the cross-hairs of numerous different struggles. It is like a Gordian knot, with all conflicts connecting to the war-torn country.
The US wants to protect oil and defeat ISIS. Turkey wants to defeat leftist Kurdish groups. Russia wants to preserve what is left on the cheap. Now the currency crisis has no clear end result. Washington has pushed to weaken the currency, but may not realize that this also has ramifications in areas where America is present.
But US officials have generally shown no interest for the economic well being of the millions of Syrians they helped liberate from ISIS control. This leaves much uncertainty and no answers during a time of pandemic and continued low-level conflict.