Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Revenge, Cold and Brutal

"Putin is presenting Russia -- Holy Russia, as he is wont to style it on occasion -- as the saviour of those ancient Christian communities. The leaders of the two largest Christian Churches in the world -- Rome and Moscow -- have pleaded for protection. Putin is poised to cynically deliver it, with the added benefit of expanding Russia's footprint in the Middle East to a larger size than it has been in 50 years. "
"At the same time as Moscow's patriarch was laying the moral premise for greater Russian expansion, the Munich 'ceasefire' on Syria was also a key advance for Putin. The ceasefire formalizes what has long been conceded, that Bashar al-Assad's regime will be left in place. Moreover, Putin's great ally in the region does not really have to cease fire at all, as he is permitted -- with enthusiastic help from Russian air power -- to continue his attack on 'terrorists', which under Assad's regime is more or less anyone opposed to his rule. The decimation by Russian forces of Assad's opposition around Aleppo will likely continue, and the ceasefire may advance a de facto victory for Assad in the Syrian civil war."
Fr. Raymond de Souza, National Post

"The temporary truce that wasn't is another sorry example of how western leaders are always reacting to what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing, and are unwilling or unable to take any strategic initiative themselves. It allows Russia to continue helping the world's most notorious henchman of the moment, Syrian President Bashar Assad, while limiting coalition military action to attacks against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant."
"As Moscow talks peace with Washington, Russian warplanes have continued to tear up Syria's second city, Aleppo, with no apparent concern for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have not yet fled from there. As a consequence, international relief agencies report that those still in Aleppo are starving and that a fresh refugee crisis for Western Europe is rapidly being created on Syria's border with Turkey."
Matthew Fisher, journalist, National Post
Syrians make their way to the Esselame border gate
Syrians make their way to the Esselame border gate, in the Turkish province of Kilis, as they flee airstrikes in and around Aleppo. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

If someone were writing a satire, a truly absurd piece of fiction, that writer might sketch two protagonists, one well-meaning but ineffectual, the other cunning and quite effective in his ability to draw in the former to the eventual advantage of the latter. The writer could sketch out various scenarios, where the cunning one is able to wrap the one who reigns over a far more powerful nation but who is himself indecisive and insecure, to trap him into actions that are to the benefit of the sinister one, demeaning to the righteous one.

In every turn on the world stage, Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to smoothly out-manoeuvre U.S. President Barack Obama. Of course, Vladimir Putin, despite the nobility of his good works on the international scene, will likely never be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but he did manage to convince the Obama Nobel Laureate that diplomacy is better than conflict, and to set aside his unfortunate warning of red lines in the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations.

From there to facing off against the U.S. administration accusing Moscow of illegal acts of global piracy in annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and conspiring with ethnic Russian Ukrainian rebels to rob Ukraine of much of its east through supplying the rebel groups with advanced weaponry enabling it to shoot down a Malaysian passenger liner killing all aboard, and sending Russian troops in green uniforms sans insignia to fight Ukrainian soldiers, it was all a breezy challenge to Mr. Putin.

Now that Mr. Putin has sent his fighter jets to Syria to ensure that his favourite Syrian despot cannot be unseated by his majority Syrian population rebelling against Shiite Alawite oppression against the Sunnis, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant finds itself hamstrung in a crowded airspace. How unfortunate, should a NATO plane venture into the jetstream of a Russian jet and a tussle ensue; perhaps a different outcome than a Russian jet venturing momentarily into Turkish airspace.

But there it is, a large agenda capping a smaller one. What could be more irritating to a Russian autocrat fondly recalling Soviet times than ridicule, contempt and accusations levelled by western Europe and NATO, imposing economic sanctions on a country whose major exports have suddenly collapsed in value? A collapse that did little to convince the Kremlin it might reign in its colossal price tag that came with refurbishing its military engine?

Now, with one fell swoop, Mr. Putin tweaks a situation in Syria where the rebel advance is suddenly halted, and the reversal causes an even greater flood of refugees to enter Europe on the backs of the million that Europe is struggling to cope with. If Europe could try to beggar Russia with sanctions, then Russia had the right to beggar Europe with a wholesale strain on its union and its economy. This is known as pay-back, right?

A barrier blocks a route for migrants
A barrier blocks a route for migrants from Serbia to Hungary in September 2015. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

And should Russia be successful in goading Turkey sufficiently to the point of an outright attack on Russian forces in Syria, NATO would be left with quite a dilemma. It makes an interesting picture: Turkey grappling militarily with Russia, a non-NATO member and a NATO member, while Germany, France, Britain, the United States and others suddenly remember that they've got business elsewhere; battling ISIL, as example, while Turkey's bombast pays the penalty. And NATO finally dissolves.

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