Bashar al-Assad, Syria's long-term dictator, is also presiding over the disaster. According to preliminary estimates, the earthquake in northern Syria claimed at least 3,500 lives; in fact, many more people may have died in the rubble.
A head of state has to find clear words, relentlessly name political failures, now it's about responsibility, about leadership - and Assad delivers: "For 600 years, colonization by the West has been based on killing and dispossessing people," he explains in an interview with Syrian state television as he visits a hospital in Aleppo on Saturday. The province was badly damaged by the earthquake - a fact that the West is now politicizing and actively preventing aid, Assad believes.
This is, to put it mildly, a very idiosyncratic analysis when you consider that Assad has been waging a merciless war against his own people with Russian support for a good twelve years. For this he has long been subject to sanctions from the West – which of course he would like to get rid of.
That's why he presents himself as a statesman who tackles the crisis vigorously. According to his logic, the only thing standing between him and an adequate response to the emergency is that the West, with its import bans, is withholding the Syrian population from the urgently needed aid.
And so Assad also praised the doctors when he visited the hospital. They are "the heroes of the catastrophe". What he doesn't say is that one of his war tactics is to bomb hospitals in a targeted manner, one of the reasons why medical care in the earthquake region is so bad. With Russian help, the Syrian regime in Damascus controls around two-thirds of the country's territory, including Aleppo.
Then there are the extremely densely populated areas under rebel control in the Idlib region; this region was hit hardest by the earthquake. There is exactly one remaining border crossing open for UN humanitarian aid via Turkey. International appeals to the Syrian regime that the UN should be allowed to open and use the closed border crossings for humanitarian aid are being ignored in Damascus.
And that's exactly the problem. And not the sanctions, the lifting of which is now being demanded not only by the regime. These explicitly allow the import of aid supplies, they are not directed against the Syrian population. Everything else is propaganda. And Assad is very familiar with that.