Sanctions 'blunt tool' to fix Syria crisis

Russia and its BRICS partners have condemned EU sanctions on Syria, saying neither the oil embargo nor any “further steps” are likely to defuse the situation as new deaths are being reported in the country.

Russia's Foreign Minister said on Sunday that President Bashar Assad has already implemented some reforms aimed at solving the conflict. However, he admitted the Syrian opposition is reluctant to engage in talks with the government.

Last week, the EU imposed an oil embargo on Syria and warned of further steps if the five-month crackdown did not stop. But the sanctions look set to have more effect on ordinary people in Syria than on the authorities they are targeting.

Nadir Nashawati is a master barber and his small shop was flourishing, until it all ended in a snip.

“I used to have many customers,” he says. “They would come from as far as 20 kilometers away from Damascus, but now the flow has gone down a lot.”

First came the unrest, then came the crackdown. And after that the West quickly stepped in with its sanctions.

“The purpose of that is to put economic pressure on to achieve a political outcome, just to stop the bloodshed and to help the people of Syria to achieve their legitimate aspirations,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

All major credit card transactions were stopped earlier this month, but that mainly affected foreign tourists. Because Syria runs its own payments system, those with Syrian accounts have not felt the pinch.

However, the EU and the US are tightening their grip by imposing an oil export embargo on Damascus. But will that have any palpable effect on the people of Syria?

“Of course, sanctions will have a negative effect on the Syrian economy,” admitted Dr. Muhammad Al-Hussein, Syria’s minister of finance. “But it is a diversified economy, with a stable debt, which gives it a certain immunity against these sanctions.”

And this is not just government gloss in the face of imposed adversity. Syrian opposition figures are also unconvinced, but for a different reason.

“The Syrian government has chosen their path,” says an opposition member Hussein Alodat. “And no matter what measures are taken against them, they will continue down that road.”

Sanctions are sold as a precise weapon to hit the regime where it hurts. But Syrian analysts says they are too a blunt tool, and it is the people who will suffer most.

“When you are talking about the oil products, it is concerning the Syrian citizens not the old regime,” says Dr Bassam Abu-Abdalla, a professor of foreign studies at the University of Damascus. “How can you protect the civilian people while at the same time attacking them?”

But while the power brokers trade insults and blows with Syria, for ordinary workers like Nadir the daily battle is to keep his modest livelihood together, while hoping for the best.

“I believe business will pick up again,” Nadir bravely states. “We will pull through.”