Russia in Syria

There was a recent article in the New York Times titled “Is Vladimir Putin trying to teach the West a lesson in Syria?” (
In Krastev’s view, Putin’s argument is that either America should be prepared to intervene and sort out any civil war inspired by its lofty rhetoric, or it should quit goading people to revolt. Apparently, in Putin’s speech at the UN General Assembly, his question to America was, “Do you realize what you have done?” According to Krastev, America sees global instability as a result of authoritarian regimes’ desperate attempts to preserve a doomed status quo, while Moscow sees it as arising from America’s obsession with democracy, even where it is implausible. Why implausible? Because our Republic-style form of government only works when the people accept the results of the election. They may grizzle and speak out against the current politicians, but they accept the politicians. In turn, the politicians accept that if they lose the next election, they are out. Further, everyone accepts that government might favour a philosophy, but it will not favour a group based on religion, race, or a number of other aberrant behaviours. This may seem very basic, but in most parts of the world nobody trusts any of these conventions. Krastev’s article cites Libya; what he does not mention is that Libya is relatively chaotic right now. We heard a lot of fuss over an incident in Benghazi, but that is only because it involved Americans. I gather there are plenty of similar incidents in Libya.

If Krastev is correct, can Putin succeed in delivering that message? My guess is no. One of the aspects of the Republic form of government is that the representatives have essentially unlimited speaking rights, and once a politician gets hold of a slogan, it is very difficult to persuade said politician to drop it.

Another question is, is that why Putin is in Syria? My view is, almost certainly not. Yes, he wants the naval base, but I doubt that disappearing would worry him enormously. My guess is that what Putin wants least of all is to have ISIS or whatever spreading trouble into Central Asia. In the old Soviet Union, Muslim, Christian and atheist lived their lives peacefully. The standard of living was well below that of the West in terms of consumer goods, etc, but from what I saw the people were essentially happy, or at least content. The last thing Putin will want to see is any of those republics infested with the sort of problems in Syria.

Rightly or wrongly, there is another lesson that Putin is dishing out, although whether it was intended is another matter. That is, the correct use of air power when dealing with ground insurgency or war. The Russians have released some TV clips on what they are doing, and it is impressive. What they are doing is supporting the Syrian army. Up until now, many of the rebel groups have been using modern US supplied weaponry, including anti-tank weapons. Now the Syrian armour and infantry were shown progressing towards some destination, and when they ran into difficulty, now the Russian air force targeted the problems. If the insurgents stayed put, they died from above; if they moved, they were open to the Syrian army.

They are not exactly revolutionary tactics, in fact they more or less follow the procedures required by Colonel-General Heinz Guderian for blitzkrieg. The air power supports the ground forces because it is only the ground forces that can make lasting gains. Apparently the US air strikes refuse to support any of the Shi’ite armed forces (largely Assad’s and Iranian) and therefore while they are a nuisance to ISIS and while we hear of “important results”, the fact is ISIS has not been reversed in any clear way.