OPINION: More than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the chaos, it has been impossible to determine exactly how many were non-combatants but tens of thousands of innocent civilians are known to have died in air strikes, shelling and tank attacks that have been unleashed on towns and cities.
What is beyond doubt is that the slaughter will go on as long as Assad continues his futile bid to cling to power. His dwindling band of loyalist troops has been confined to a few scattered strongholds and he will never regain full control. His forces, not the rebels who seek to overthrow his brutal regime, have become the resistance.
Assad's proposed solution to end the bloodshed, offered yesterday, defies reality. He has called for outsiders to stop arming insurgents in return for his army halting military operations but reserves the right to defend "state interests" that he alone will determine.
He would also hand-pick delegates to establish a charter to progress the election of a new government. The opposition will be rightly suspicious of those terms.
Much of the bloodshed could have been avoided had the international community been able to agree on measures to quell the fighting. Unfortunately, United Nations efforts to take meaningful action have been repeatedly frustrated by the security council vetoes of Russia and China.
The best that can be hoped for now is that the UN can agree a strategy for the aftermath of Assad's fall, which could still be many months away.
Even once he is toppled, peace will not return to Syria. The opposition has not been blameless in the killing and is itself accused of war crimes. It is at present united in its bid to oust Assad but also factious. The civil war has been marked by sectarianism and observers warn the killing could continue for years after Assad has gone.
There is a real danger that Assad could be replaced by an extremist regime, threatening peace across the Middle East. There are also obvious concerns about his stockpile of chemical weapons falling into the hands of such a regime, or elements of the opposition accused of being al Qaeda fronts.
Russia has been Assad's staunchest ally and its present deployment of an amphibious landing force in the eastern Mediterranean is said to be a warning to the West to not intervene against him.
However, the opportunity for military support on the ground for the opposition has passed. Reports from Syria say it would not be welcome.
The Russian buildup is also aimed at protecting its naval base in the port of Tartus, its last stronghold in the Mediterranean and the staging point for any evacuation of the 30,000 Russian nationals thought to be living in Syria.
Russia is correct to be concerned for the welfare of its citizens. However, its involvement in the Syrian crisis should not end there.
It should also be concerned for the plight of Syrians. Instead of offering succour to Assad, it should be urging him to go, and working with the rest of the world to ensure the regime that replaces him is peaceful.
- The Dominion Post