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RussiasEuropeanGameinSyriabyBernardHenriLvyProjectSyndicate

WORLDAFFAIRS
BERNARDHENRILVY
BernardHenriLvyisoneofthefoundersoftheNouveauxPhilosophes(New
Philosophers)movement.HisbooksincludeLeftinDarkTimes:AStandAgainstthe
NewBarbarism.

OCT12,2015

RussiasEuropeanGamein
Syria
PARISThismuchisclearinSyria:Thereisnogoodsolution.
TherehasnotbeenagoodsolutionsincethatblackWednesdayinAugust2013,when
SyrianPresidentBasharalAssadswarmachine,byusingchemicalweapons,crossed
theredlinethatUSPresidentBarackObamahadwarnedwouldtriggeranAmerican
militaryresponse.Themoderateoppositionstillstood,andtheIslamicStatehadnot
yetemergedfromtheshadows.Yet,inashockinglastminuteaboutface,Obama
declinedtointervene.
Thatlapsecannotbeundone.ButinthehellofbadsolutionsonofferforSyria,some
areworsethanothers.AndtheonedevisedbyRussianPresidentVladimirPutinis
probablythemostinfernalofall.
RussianairstrikeshavebeenconcentratedontargetsaroundthecitiesofIdlib,Homs,
andHamaareaswhere,accordingtoindependentobservers,jihadwatchers,and
othergroupsthatscrutinizethevideosplacedonlinebytheRussianauthorities
themselves,theIslamicStateisnotestablished.Thismeansthattheprimaryobjective
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oftheRussianattacksistoweakentheentireopposition,includingthedemocratic
opposition,fightingtheAssadregime.
ThegoalofRussiasinterventionisthereforenottocontributetothestruggleagainst
terrorism,astheKremlinspropagandistsclaim,buttorestorepoliticalcontrol,atany
cost,totheregimethatspawnedtheterrorisminthefirstplace.Moreprecisely,
Russiasaimistorescue(afteralongperiodofarmslengthsupport)adictatorship
thatAmericanandFrenchauthoritiesdescribeasbeingresponsibleforcausingmore
than250,000deathssince2011.Theregimesbehaviornodoubtfueledtheterrifying
riseoftheIslamicStateaswell,providingAssadwithatrumpcardinhisbidfor
internationalsupportandRussiawithafigleaf.
Onemightarguethatthepastispastandthat,inviewofthegeneraldisasterinSyria,
Russiasinterventionwillatleasthavethebenefitofhaltingthecountrysfreefall.But
thefirstconsequenceofPutinsoffensiveoneemployingmethodstestedinthetwo
Chechenwarsandnotburdened,toputitmildly,bytheprecautionsobservedby
Westernarmedforceswillbetoincrease,notreduce,thenumberofcivilian
casualties.
TheworldwasrightlyhorrifiedbyAmericasrecentblunderinbombingtheMdecins
SansFrontireshospitalinKunduz,Afghanistan.ButhowmanySyrianKunduzeswill
resultfromRussianairstrikesiftheKremlincontinuestofavorunguidedbombsover
guidedmissiles?(ThisisjustoneexampleofRussiastactics,butonethatrevealsmuch
abouthowPutinintendstoprosecutehislatestforeignadventure.)
Andcananyonebelieve,evenfleetingly,thatRussiasinterventionwilllessen,rather
thanaggravate,Syriasrefugeecrisis?Putinsmethodsareforcingtensofthousandsof
civilianstofleeindiscriminateairstrikes,clearingthewayforthedeathsquadsofa
regimethatinrecentmonthshadbeenshowingsignsofexhaustion,anddashingany
remaininghopeofcreatingeffectivesafezonesinnorthernJordanandsouthern
Turkey.
Noweventhelastholdoutsamongtheregimesopponentswillbeappearingonthe
roadsofEurope.TheywillnotappearontheroadsofRussia,mindyou:Unlike
GermanyorFrance,Putinwillnothesitate,whileterrorizingtomorrowsrefugees,to
slamthedoorintheirfaces.
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NorisPutinshyabouthisintentionsinSyria.OnepieceofnewsreportedbyRussian
mediabutcuriouslyunheededintheWestisthatthemissilecruiserMoskva,withits
dozensofantiaircraftordnance,hasbeendeployedtoLatakia.
ButtheIslamicStatehasnot,unbeknownsttoeveryonebutPutin,acquiredanairforce
thatneedstobeneutralized.Rather,theKremlinevidentlywillviewasalegitimate
targetanyaircraftthatmightpassoverterritorythatitcomestoregardasbeingunder
itscontrol.And,becauseanysuchplanewouldnecessarilybeflyingtheflagofthe
UnitedStates,theUnitedKingdom,France,Turkey,oranothermemberofthecoalition
fightingtheIslamicState,itisnothardtoenvisagehowRussiasinvolvementcould
leadtointernationalescalationofSyriascivilwar.
Fortunately,wearenotthereyet.ButletusnotpretendthatRussiasmilitary
operations,which,todate,havebeenaimedsolelyatprovidingRussiawithmastery
overSyrianairspaceandprotectingitsinterestsontheground,arebolsteringefforts
todefeattheIslamicState.
Putinisnotjustafiremanwhosetsfires;heisanoldschoolimperialist.Hisoperation
inSyriaispartlydesignedtodivertattentionfromhisdismembermentofUkraine.And
histhinlyveiledthreatsagainsttheBalticstates,Poland,Finland,andnowTurkey
whoseairspaceandrelationswithNATOhavebeenprobedbyRussianaircraftreveal
astrategyofaggressionthathasasitschiefgoaltheweakeningofEurope.
EuropeansmustwakeuptoPutinsdesignbeforeitistoolate.InFrance,thesirensong
ofappeasementisbecominganationalrallyingcry,fromthefarrightNationalFrontto
farleftelementsandamongagrowingnumberofmainstreampoliticiansofall
stripes.Indeed,theKremlinhasassiduouslycultivatedpartysecretariatsacross
Europe.AwebofinvisiblelinkshasbroughtintobeingwhatcouldbecalledPutins
PartyinEurope.
IfPutinsPartywereenticingonlytheusualEuropeanpopulistdemagogues,from
NigelFarageintheUnitedKingdomtoViktorrbaninHungary,itwouldbebad
enough.Butwhenevenleaderswhoarenormallyconsideredtoberesponsible
statesmen,suchasItalianPrimeMinisterMatteoRenzi,beginjustifyingPutinsactions,
Europerisksfritteringawaytheverysecurityonwhichitsprosperityisbuilt.

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