Excerpts from the DER SPIEGEL staff article, HOW SYRIA BECAME A GLOBAL WAR.
"Since the collapse of the cease-fire, the regime once again seems to believe that it can emerge as the winner of this war. Russian jets and Syrian helicopters have pounded besieged eastern Aleppo, transforming it into an apocalyptic wasteland. According to the United Nations, more than 300 civilians have been killed in the city in the last two weeks and five hospitals have been either partially or completely destroyed. Some 250,000 people are thought to be still living in eastern Aleppo, which is completely surrounded by forces loyal to the Assad regime.
Even if the Syrians are the ones being forced to suffer, for many of those involved, the conflict is no longer about Aleppo or even Syria. Of this, the Babylonian mixture of languages spoken on the frontlines and in the air above is just one of many indications. "I have the feeling that we have become laboratory rats for Russian, Iranian and Syrian weapons -- and for the West's political experiments," says Sharif Mohammed, a civilian who is holding out in eastern Aleppo.
In its sixth year, the conflagration has become a kind of world war in three respects. Firstly, for the last four years, large numbers of foreigners have been flowing into the country to join the fight. More than 20,000 radical Sunnis have joined Islamic State (IS) and about three times that many Shiites from a half-dozen countries are thought to be fighting on behalf of the Assad regime."
"It has been a year since Putin began his intervention in Syria -- on the pretext that he intended to fight Islamic State. For a year, the Americans and Russians tried to convince themselves that they shared common interests in Syria and could agree to fight terrorism together. But in reality, Russia is playing a role similar to the one it adopted in Ukraine: It is providing massive amounts of military support to one side, thus becoming a de facto party to the war, while posing on the international stage as a mediator and part of a possible diplomatic solution.
Many Western politicians had hoped that Russia would play a more constructive role this time around. That, though, has proven to be an illusion. And that helps explain why the diplomacy that many Western politicians had hoped would bring about a solution has repeatedly failed. Because Russia is taking part in Assad's air strikes on civilians, the US last week withdrew from all peace talks. In response, Russia pulled out of a deal for the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium -- which can be seen as an indirect threat to use atomic weapons.
For the first time in a long time, officials in the US government are once again considering military intervention in Syria and bombing Assad's military. Former General David Petraeus said last Wednesday that it would be "very, very straightforward" to destroy Assad's air force using cruise missiles and other weapons launched from a distance.
Is it time for the US to finally take action? How dangerous would an American intervention be in Russia's backyard? Could Syria trigger a global conflagration?
Presumably to underline the plausibility of such fears, Russia is now sending two additional warships and a missile corvette with anti-aircraft capabilities to the Mediterranean. The Russian Defense Ministry has openly threatened to shoot down US warplanes over Syria and said that the Syrian military is in possession of Buk surface-to-air missile systems. That is the same weapons system used to shoot down Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Putin is hoping that Barack Obama will not want to launch a military engagement in the final months of his presidential tenure.