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 1000’s 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 time, the regime and its allies had been working onerous to placed on a great face.

One in every of their public relations efforts? A marketing campaign known as “Summer season in Syria” selling regime-sponsored artwork festivals, movie festivals, and vogue reveals — and urging Syrians to share their experiences of summer time 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 actual fact, 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 challenge: a newly-constructed resort positioned 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, unusual Syrians — some 7 million of whom have been internally displaced by the warfare — 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 pupil tells Smith. “No place in Syria is secure.”

Inside Assad’s Syria — a uncooked, up-close take a look at each the realities of on a regular basis life for unusual 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 Growth Strategist, FRONTLINE

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

“You’ll 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 quite a lot 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 may inevitably problem. That is an invite for abuse.”

One other colleague advised me earlier than I left, “You’re going to get the allure offensive. The regime’s greatest canine and pony present. Potemkin village.”

In fact I went anyway. Since 2011, protection of the conflict in Syria has nearly fully come from the insurgent facet. Exterior of a variety of surprisingly repetitive and uninteresting interviews with President Bashar al-Assad, Western reporters have had restricted entry, particularly lately. So 5 years into the conflict, life in regime-controlled areas was nonetheless largely a thriller.

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

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

Principally I assumed it was necessary to place a face to the individuals who stay 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 quite a lot of restrictions. An itinerary needs to be authorized by the International Media Division on the Ministry of Data. 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 may be concerned with seeing some footage taken by a Syrian journalist, Thaer al-Ajlani, a younger man with entree into the Syrian army.

During the last four-and-a-half years, I used to be advised al-Ajlani had traveled everywhere in the nation, filmed many battles, hung out with troopers, interviewed their commanders and talked to refugees. I advised 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 advised. I used to be shocked when, inside a matter of weeks, I had an invite from the president’s workplace. The Ministry of Data would help 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 wish to spoil right here what had been for us many stunning encounters and occasions … from the disturbing to the absurd. However, I can say that I used to be capable of stroll the streets and discuss to whomever I wanted. And I used to be capable of 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 essentially the most half, individuals had been open about their hopes and fears. As to how the conflict started, that they had a constant narrative: That the protesters that took to the streets in 2011 had legit calls for, however that the demonstrations had been shortly hijacked by international backed jihadists. They reject the concept 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 learn to hear for that. Their method of expressing this was by no means to criticize the president instantly — that could be a line nobody dares cross. As a substitute, individuals would merely stress their love of Syria. Others may speak about 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 wish to the identical to occur to them.

“… Not everybody loves Assad. However I needed to learn to hear for that. Their method of expressing this was by no means to criticize the president instantly — that could be a line nobody dares cross.”

As to how the conflict may finish, “solely God is aware of” is the very best reply I heard. It could be essentially the most sincere.

In the long run, I got here away with one huge thought that needs 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 if you’re a loyalist, to defeat all of the rebels. At this level within the conflict, it’s onerous to see how both goal is attainable.

The objective needs to be to cease the killing. Maybe new borders will have to be drawn, as some have recommended, 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 conflict 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 resolution in Damascus. Efforts up to now have failed, however the rising refugee disaster and the specter of much more conflict is spurring new initiatives.

This doesn’t tackle the ISIS drawback, however actually so long as preventing continues between the regime and extra accommodating insurgent teams, the struggle 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 international conspirators. Each views have some fact to them, however clinging to these narratives is futile. It results in the form of rigidity that can solely convey extra preventing, extra struggling, extra refugees and extra demise.

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 conflict in Syria — and was a senior producer on the 2011 movie profiling Bashar al-Assad, The Regime. Smith works with RAINmedia, an impartial 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 isn’t just about supporting President Bashar al-Assad. It’s about Russia’s place on this 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 in opposition to terrorists like ISIS.

However Russia’s army intervention in Syria started as Russia itself was struggling below Western sanctions, an ailing economic system and diplomatic isolation because of its annexation of Crimea and its function 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 army function, solely heightens the opportunity of shedding public help.

So why the gamble?

Consultants say that whereas Assad could also be a beneficial, long-time ally who provides Russia a foothold within the Center East, the intervention is about one thing a lot bigger — making certain 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 take care of us. We’re a significant participant on this disaster,’” says Andrew Weiss, vp for research on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.

Given america’ obvious reluctance to develop into extra deeply concerned within the Syrian civil battle, and the extraordinary 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 needs 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 knowledgeable on Russian safety at New York College’s Heart for International Affairs.

As European borders and shores buckle below the strain of lots of of 1000’s of refugees, a overwhelming majority of them Syrians, Russia — with Assad in its nook — provides 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 supplied the Kremlin an opportunity to vary the topic from the battle in jap Ukraine, says Weiss. The Syria marketing campaign ramped up because the preventing in Ukraine was winding right down to an uneasy stalemate. The Ukrainian battle has resulted within the deaths of practically 8,000 individuals, together with troopers, separatists and civilians, and a path of bodily and financial devastation that displaced at the least 1.4 million from their properties — not a straightforward, victorious narrative for Russia.

The gambit could also be paying off, in response to the state pollster Russian Public Opinion Analysis Heart, often called VTsIOM, which stated final week that Putin’s approval score hit a document excessive of virtually 90 p.c within the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria. “Such a excessive degree 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. Consultants do counsel taking opinion polls in Russia with a grain of salt, although. For instance, Putin’s approval score has not fallen beneath 80 p.c 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 in opposition to terrorists who pose a risk to Russia, whereas they’re safely in another person’s nation.

“Beforehand, there was resistance, as a result of individuals didn’t need to see their boys dying in Syria,” Galeotti says. However up to now, “it’s very a lot being offered as a wholly arms-length and protected intervention” — from the Russian perspective, an nearly “anti-septic battle.”


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

The opposite apparent price of the intervention, moreover the opportunity 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 response to a senior analyst quoted in a latest Monetary Instances report. That spending comes at a time when authorities figures present the Russian economic system, struggling below Western sanctions and low oil costs, shrunk by 3.8 p.c by way of the primary 9 months of the yr, and by 4.3 p.c within the newest quarter. In the meantime, the World Financial institution reported that the poverty fee in Russia has climbed to fifteen.1 p.c, compounded by rising meals costs.

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

In 2014, a Russian protection official introduced that the nation’s 2015 protection price range would attain a document $81 billion, or 4.2 p.c of Russia’s GDP on the time, in response to The Moscow Instances. The official, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, stated, “These parameters are considerably increased than in 2014, when the proportion of GDP was 3.4 p.c.”

Thus far, Russia has been capable of depend on foreign money reserves to fill price range deficits, Pomeranz says, however “Sooner or later, Putin’s going to have to elucidate to Russians why they’re not spending something to enhance their way of life, and are solely engaged in varied forms of wars.”


In the mean time, it stays unclear how far Russia is keen to go, and what number of assets it’s keen 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 might 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 power of the forces on the bottom supporting Assad’s authorities (from the Syrian military to Shiite militias, Hezbollah and Iran’s army advisers), Russia’s capability for finishing up a long-term, long-range army effort, and whether or not occasions on the bottom will drive Russia to escalate its marketing campaign.

“Thus far, every little thing’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 try to ship extra troops? That is the way you get sucked into these wars — you assume you may management them.”

“It’s Putin’s wager that he may be out and in rapidly, and in some way with an enhanced popularity and perhaps even victorious,” Pomeranz says. However, he warned, “The Center East doesn’t appear to grant individuals brief, victorious wars.”

Priyanka Boghani

Priyanka Boghani, Deputy Digital Editor, FRONTLINE