Inside the Assad Regime’s Surreal “Summer in Syria” Campaign | Inside Assad’s Syria | FRONTLINE | PBS

By any measure, the previous a number of months in Syria have been particularly devastating.

The world has watched as hundreds of Syrians fled the preventing between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and insurgent forces. In the meantime, regardless of U.S. airstrikes, ISIS seized much more territory throughout the nation, even razing the traditional metropolis of Palmyra.

However as FRONTLINE’s Martin Smith discovered when he journeyed inside government-controlled areas of Syria late this previous summer season, the regime and its allies have been working onerous to placed on a very good face.

Considered one of their public relations efforts? A marketing campaign referred to as “Summer season in Syria” selling regime-sponsored artwork gala’s, movie festivals, and vogue exhibits — and urging Syrians to share their experiences of summer season on Twitter utilizing the hashtag #SummerInSyria.

The marketing campaign didn’t go precisely as deliberate, as an excerpt from Inside Assad’s Syria — tomorrow night time’s new FRONTLINE documentary — reveals.

“Simply having some tea and having fun with the view from my balcony,” one particular person tweeted, together with a photograph of a shelled-out constructing within the metropolis of Homs.

“Just some extra barrel bombs, and this can all be white sand,” tweeted one other, sharing a photograph of a kid standing in particles.

The #SummerInSyria marketing campaign wasn’t the one surreal juxtaposition Smith noticed in his three weeks on the bottom in regime-held territory.

In reality, the architect of the Summer season In Syria marketing campaign itself — the federal government’s minister of tourism, Bishr Yazigi — invited Smith alongside to see one other mission: a newly-constructed resort situated simply 5 miles from the bombed-out stays of Homs, and 10 miles from insurgent strains.

“The animals look as shocked as I’m,” Smith says within the above clip, referring to the stone sculptures by the resort’s newly opened pool.

Within the meantime, peculiar Syrians — some 7 million of whom have been internally displaced by the struggle — stay caught within the crosshairs of the disaster, hoping for safety and making an attempt to keep away from the specter of demise from all sides.

“I don’t have any future now in Syria,” one highschool scholar tells Smith. “No place in Syria is protected.”

Inside Assad’s Syria — a uncooked, up-close have a look at each the realities of on a regular basis life for peculiar Syrians caught within the disaster, and the Assad regime’s efforts to carry onto energy — premieres Tues., Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. EST on PBS stations (test native listings) and on-line at

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Author & Viewers Improvement Strategist, FRONTLINE

A Journey “Inside Assad’s Syria” | Inside Assad’s Syria | FRONTLINE | PBS

“You may be killed.”

“Excuse me.”

“You’re going to be pilloried, lambasted. Yeah, you’re going to be unpopular.”

That was the conclusion of a colleague, somebody with a variety of expertise within the Center East after watching simply the opening minutes of my new FRONTLINE documentary, Inside Assad’s Syria.


“It’s the very concept of it — going into regime-held territory. Too many individuals have a view of Syria that this can inevitably problem. That is an invite for abuse.”

One other colleague informed me earlier than I left, “You’ll get the appeal offensive. The regime’s greatest canine and pony present. Potemkin village.”

After all I went anyway. Since 2011, protection of the battle in Syria has virtually completely come from the insurgent aspect. Exterior of various surprisingly repetitive and uninteresting interviews with President Bashar al-Assad, Western reporters have had restricted entry, particularly not too long ago. So 5 years into the battle, life in regime-controlled areas was nonetheless largely a thriller.

I had a variety of questions. What could be folks’s prevailing narratives about how the battle started and what it was about? Would folks make distinctions between completely different insurgent factions? Had been folks there actually supportive of their authorities’s extra brutal techniques, like its use of barrel bombs? How did they think about the battle would finish?

“… 5 years into the battle, life in regime-controlled areas was nonetheless largely a thriller.”

Largely I assumed it was vital to place a face to the individuals who dwell there — to know who they had been and what they had been pondering and feeling.

The issue I confronted as a reporter, although, was that for these few journalists that do get in, there are a variety of restrictions. An itinerary must be authorized by the Overseas Media Division on the Ministry of Info. They grant seven-day visas and assign each journalist a minder. Anytime you journey, you might be accompanied.

I used to be lucky to have the ability to circumvent this.

The telephone name got here this summer season. After making an attempt to get into regime-controlled Syria for greater than a 12 months, I used to be contacted by somebody who requested if we could be all in favour of seeing some footage taken by a Syrian journalist, Thaer al-Ajlani, a younger man with entree into the Syrian navy.

During the last four-and-a-half years, I used to be informed al-Ajlani had traveled everywhere in the nation, filmed many battles, hung out with troopers, interviewed their commanders and talked to refugees. I informed my contact that after all I used to be , however I would favor to come back to Damascus, meet al-Ajlani and do greater than see his footage. “We’ll see,” I used to be informed. I used to be shocked when, inside a matter of weeks, I had an invite from the president’s workplace. The Ministry of Info would assist the journey. However I’d not have a minder, and our visas could be open ended.

The movie tells the story of our three weeks there this previous summer season. I don’t need to spoil right here what had been for us many shocking encounters and occasions … from the disturbing to the absurd. However, I can say that I used to be in a position to stroll the streets and discuss to whomever I wanted. And I used to be in a position to go to officers if I so selected. Some particular requests had been denied however different serendipitous encounters made up for what we didn’t obtain.

And for probably the most half, folks had been open about their hopes and fears. As to how the battle started, they’d a constant narrative: That the protesters that took to the streets in 2011 had respectable calls for, however that the demonstrations had been rapidly hijacked by overseas backed jihadists. They reject the concept that Western-backed rebels are “moderates” as they’re typically termed within the US. There’s a tendency to conflate all armed teams opposing the regime as sectarian extremists.

On the similar time, not everybody loves Assad. However I needed to discover ways to pay attention for that. Their approach of expressing this was by no means to criticize the president instantly — that may be a line nobody dares cross. As an alternative, folks would merely stress their love of Syria. Others would possibly discuss supporting the federal government, however that “was not as a result of we love the regime” as one man put it, however as a result of “we don’t need the collapse of the state.” They noticed what occurred in Iraq after Saddam, and in Libya after Qaddafi. They watched as state infrastructure — faculties, hospitals, police, water, electrical energy — crumbled with the autumn of central authorities, they usually don’t need to the identical to occur to them.

“… Not everybody loves Assad. However I needed to discover ways to pay attention for that. Their approach of expressing this was by no means to criticize the president instantly — that may be a line nobody dares cross.”

As to how the battle would possibly finish, “solely God is aware of” is the perfect reply I heard. It might be probably the most sincere.

Ultimately, I got here away with one huge thought that ought to be apparent however I don’t suppose is. That’s that the objective right here shouldn’t be to win, to both vanquish Assad and his regime, or in case you are a loyalist, to defeat all of the rebels. At this level within the battle, it’s exhausting to see how both goal is attainable.

The objective ought to be to cease the killing. Maybe new borders will have to be drawn, as some have urged, with some lodging made for Assad to stay in energy for the close to time period and a few lodging made to grant the rebels some autonomy. Russia’s direct entry into the battle presents new challenges, but in addition new alternatives. Washington and Moscow are at the moment exploring the likelihood for ceasefires, utilizing leverage with their proxies to stabilize the battlefield and push for a political answer in Damascus. Efforts up to now have failed, however the rising refugee disaster and the specter of much more battle is spurring new initiatives.

This doesn’t deal with the ISIS drawback, however definitely so long as preventing continues between the regime and extra accommodating insurgent teams, the battle towards intransigent militants like ISIS and the Nusra Entrance, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, can by no means succeed.

As as to if we’ll face criticism for going, so be it. The saddest factor about Syria is that folks have made up their minds. The opposition sees Assad as a monster decided to win in any respect prices. Loyalists really feel they’re besieged by overseas conspirators. Each views have some fact to them, however clinging to these narratives is futile. It results in the type of rigidity that may solely carry extra preventing, extra struggling, extra refugees and extra loss of life.

Martin Smith, the correspondent on Inside Assad’s Syria, is an Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning documentary filmmaker for FRONTLINE. Smith wrote and produced the 2015 investigation Obama at Conflict — concerning the administration’s wrestle to take care of ISIS and the civil battle in Syria — and was a senior producer on the 2011 movie profiling Bashar al-Assad, The Regime. Smith works with RAINmedia, an unbiased manufacturing firm in New York Metropolis.

Martin Smith

Syria: What’s In It For Putin? | Inside Assad’s Syria | FRONTLINE | PBS

For Vladimir Putin, Syria is not only about supporting President Bashar al-Assad. It’s about Russia’s place on the planet.

Ever since Russia started airstrikes in Syria a month in the past, it has made the case that it’s aiding the Assad authorities in a struggle towards terrorists like ISIS.

However Russia’s navy intervention in Syria started as Russia itself was struggling below Western sanctions, an ailing financial system and diplomatic isolation because of its annexation of Crimea and its position within the battle in jap Ukraine. Its Syria marketing campaign carries the dangers that include any international intervention — escalating casualties, runaway prices and the hazard of falling into a quagmire. That it comes so quickly after Ukraine, the place Russia took pains to cover its navy position, solely heightens the potential of shedding public help.

So why the gamble?

Specialists say that whereas Assad could also be a worthwhile, long-time ally who presents Russia a foothold within the Center East, the intervention is about one thing a lot bigger — guaranteeing Russia’s affect within the area and its place on the negotiating desk.

“Russians have been smarting for a very long time below the Western technique to isolate Russia, so this was an opportunity to say, ‘It’s important to cope with us. We’re a significant participant on this disaster,’” says Andrew Weiss, vice chairman for research on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.

Given america’ obvious reluctance to grow to be extra deeply concerned within the Syrian civil conflict, and the extreme strain European international locations are going through because of the refugee disaster, specialists say Putin noticed a possibility to re-assert Russian affect.

The purpose Russia desires to make with its intervention is that “it may be a helpful ally, or it may be a problematic antagonist,” so it shouldn’t be remoted, says Mark Galeotti, an skilled on Russian safety at New York College’s Heart for World Affairs.

As European borders and shores buckle below the strain of a whole lot of 1000’s of refugees, a overwhelming majority of them Syrians, Russia — with Assad in its nook — presents leaders a glimmer of hope for a negotiated answer to the battle. Nevertheless, U.S. officers have accused Russia, which insists it’s concentrating on ISIS fighters, of primarily concentrating on CIA-backed insurgent teams in its airstrikes.


Syria has additionally provided the Kremlin an opportunity to alter the topic from the battle in jap Ukraine, says Weiss. The Syria marketing campaign ramped up because the preventing in Ukraine was winding all the way down to an uneasy stalemate. The Ukrainian conflict has resulted within the deaths of almost 8,000 folks, together with troopers, separatists and civilians, and a path of bodily and financial devastation that displaced at the very least 1.4 million from their houses — not a simple, victorious narrative for Russia.

The gambit could also be paying off, in line with the state pollster Russian Public Opinion Analysis Heart, generally known as VTsIOM, which stated final week that Putin’s approval score hit a file excessive of just about 90 % within the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria. “Such a excessive stage of approval for the work of the Russian president is linked, within the first occasion, to occasions in Syria, to Russian airstrikes on terrorist positions there,” the pollster stated. Specialists do counsel taking opinion polls in Russia with a grain of salt, although. For instance, Putin’s approval score has not fallen under 80 % since March 2014 regardless of a deepening recession in Russia.

Putin has helped bolster public help by arguing that the Syria marketing campaign is a strike towards terrorists who pose a menace to Russia, whereas they’re safely in another person’s nation.

“Beforehand, there was resistance, as a result of folks didn’t wish to see their boys dying in Syria,” Galeotti says. However thus far, “it’s very a lot being introduced as a wholly arms-length and protected intervention” — from the Russian perspective, an nearly “anti-septic conflict.”


On the bottom, nonetheless, at the very least one Russian soldier has already died. On Tuesday, Russia confirmed its first navy fatality in Syria, however the navy’s account says the soldier, 19-year-old Vadim Kostenko, dedicated suicide.

The opposite apparent value of the intervention, moreover the potential of Russian troopers being wounded or killed, is financial. The airstrikes in Syria are costing Russia an estimated $2.3 million to $4 million a day, in line with a senior analyst quoted in a current Monetary Occasions report. That spending comes at a time when authorities figures present the Russian financial system, struggling below Western sanctions and low oil costs, shrunk by 3.8 % via the primary 9 months of the 12 months, and by 4.3 % within the newest quarter. In the meantime, the World Financial institution reported that the poverty price in Russia has climbed to fifteen.1 %, compounded by rising meals costs.

The intervention is “not an enormous expense” in the mean time, nevertheless it’s a “actual expense and the Russian finances is stretched to the utmost,” in line with William Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Superior Russian Research on the Woodrow Wilson Heart. “In Putin’s 2015 finances, he’s clearly chosen weapons over butter. He’s elevated navy and protection spending, and decreased spending on well being and training,” Pomeranz says.

In 2014, a Russian protection official introduced that the nation’s 2015 protection finances would attain a file $81 billion, or 4.2 % of Russia’s GDP on the time, in line with The Moscow Occasions. The official, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, stated, “These parameters are considerably larger than in 2014, when the proportion of GDP was 3.4 %.”

To this point, Russia has been capable of depend on foreign money reserves to fill finances deficits, Pomeranz says, however “Sooner or later, Putin’s going to have to clarify to Russians why they’re not spending something to enhance their lifestyle, and are solely engaged in varied forms of wars.”


In the meanwhile, it stays unclear how far Russia is prepared to go, and what number of assets it’s prepared to expend to safe Assad’s place, specialists say. As a result of one in all Russia’s key goals is to show to america and Europe that it’s indispensable in fixing the disaster, it could be open to a spread of potential choices — from preserving Assad, to transitioning to a different Moscow-friendly authorities, or just bringing Russia in from the chilly in worldwide negotiations.

And there are unknowns to issue into Russia’s intervention — the energy of the forces on the bottom supporting Assad’s authorities (from the Syrian military to Shiite militias, Hezbollah and Iran’s navy advisers), Russia’s capability for finishing up a long-term, long-range navy effort, and whether or not occasions on the bottom will power Russia to escalate its marketing campaign.

“To this point, the whole lot’s been going proper for [Russia] in Syria,” Galeotti says. “Sooner or later, we’re going to see planes getting shot down, or we’re going to see terrorist-style assaults on their bases. After which the query is do they really feel the necessity to escalate and attempt to ship extra troops? That is the way you get sucked into these wars — you assume you may management them.”

“It’s Putin’s guess that he could be out and in shortly, and by some means with an enhanced status and perhaps even victorious,” Pomeranz says. However, he warned, “The Center East doesn’t appear to grant folks quick, victorious wars.”

Priyanka Boghani

Priyanka Boghani, Deputy Digital Editor, FRONTLINE