Behold the Great Russian Bear: Part 46

So if you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard information about the increased Russian military presence in Syria. Personally I’m not going to speculate as to Putin’s motives in doing this; I’m guessing that the war is going badly for Assad and Russia’s concerned about its naval base in Tartus. Others think it’s a ploy to let him draw back on Ukraine so as to ease sanctions, while still keeping up the appearance of a Russian superpower. Whatever the case, the Russian government seems to be denying it, as they did in Ukraine.

Personally I don’t care. I’d prefer their troops there than in Ukraine. Let them piss away even more money and resources trying to play superpower. There’s just one thing I find hilarious about this, however, and that is their denial. See, Putin has actually garnered some international praise in the past regarding his stances on Syria. It’s also unlikely that the West is going to react very negatively toward Russian involvement even if they aren’t going to be directed mainly at fighting the Islamic State (if at all). Logically the Kremlin should be shouting about this from the rooftops. Imagine if they’d done this in 2013 instead of annexing the Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. And yet they are trying to keep it secret.

So once again we’re confronted with the paradox of the pro-Kremlin crowd: Russia is supposedly this rising superpower, a global alternative opposing the Western hegemony. Putin isn’t afraid of sanctions; he doesn’t care what the West thinks. And yet he still denies all responsibility for what happens in Ukraine and is now trying to keep Russian involvement in Syria a secret. Is this how a superpower works? Ignoring all the moral questions about projecting military power around the world, it seems that if you can’t even admit you’re doing it, you’re probably not such a great power after all. After all, even Turkey admitted it had invaded and occupied Cyprus. You lie about pretexts, not the invasion.

There’s a lot of talk about Putin’s actions being about saving face with his main constituency- vatniks. The problem is that they cannot help but notice that their Dear Leader seems really timid about openly talking about the campaigns of the great Russian imperial military, to the point of disowning his own soldiers when they get captured. Many Russians sincerely wanted a war against Ukraine. If Putin told them his troops were there, pushing towards Kharkiv or Odessa, they’d jump for joy. And yet they can’t help but notice how every time the West criticizes him over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, he and the rest of the Kremlin Klowns staunchly deny it. What are they afraid of, sanctions? They spit on sanctions, right? They are proud to be sanctioned, right? Right?!

Yet still…They deny. They deny in spite of the fact that there will most likely be no consequences. They deny in spite of the fact that this, coupled with a pull back from Ukraine, could actually garner some goodwill towards Russia, however misguided the reader may consider such sentiments. Not only can they not tell the truth when they’re doing wrong, they can’t even admit it when they are, by some people’s standards, doing right.

Is this the rising superpower that is going to bring us a “multi-polar” world? This is the super-macho president who doesn’t give a flying fuck what the West thinks, so much so that he produces a photo set of his workout session and tea party with his prime minister? Look out, America! The Russian bear is rising!

5 thoughts on “Behold the Great Russian Bear: Part 46

  1. Asehpe

    I think the point of denying it is still to play ‘good guy’. We are the ones who respect international law and people’s right to self-determintion. We don’t invade other countries when we should; that is what America does, not us. We’re not only the good guys, we’re as sweet and peaceful as caramel. And still they accuse us of invading Ukraine!… It sort of gives a halo to the whole thing.

  2. say whaaat

    What I dont understand is why US has not published satellite pictures proving how Russian tanks crosses Ukraine border.

  3. A.I.Schmelzer

    Just some pointers:

    The “denial” is imho neccessary for an eventual cessation of hostilities. Depending on how that cessation looks, denial makes it possible to treat the true scope of Russian intervention in a flexible matter. Polite fictions are a usefull thing after all, so on one hand it allows fig leafs for different sides if those sides are interested in negotiation.
    The Ukrainian conflict will be hard enough to resolve with fig leafs, it will be much harder without those.
    Second, once Putin stops denying, he will have a far harder time of backing out/backing down. So denial also works as a fig leaf for Putin, as in “what retreat from Donbass, we never were in Donbass!”.

    Concerning Syria (and also Iran, the Arctic and to an extent Yemen), Russia is following a pretty sane and conventional strategy of decoupling. Their main priority is to limit the degree of western unity regarding Ukraine. The west is made up of one global actor (the USA) and a host of smaller actors. The USA is, as a matter of fact, quite interested in making use of Russia elsewhere while opposing it on Ukraine, and has the political resources to do so. The USA will therefore disassociate Russian behavior in different areas. However, various US allies may very well not. Should f.e. US congress blow up the Iran deal (where Russia played a constructive role), or other hardliners increase interference in Syria (one should note that Russias “intervention” was very much flanked by a peacefeeler to the Saudis, notably after selling them enough rope to hang themselfs in Yemen) and increase the refugee situation, a number of European actors may see things quite differently.

    Same in the arctic, after Denemark claimed some stupendously large tracts of land, Russia basically claimed a pretty reasonable amount (Canadians were utterly shocked by Russia being modest), no doubt influenced by the fact that the “law” gives Russia a lot, so why would Russia break laws that act in her interests? If the Scandinavians and the Canadians clash over the arctic, Russia would find that to be completely and utterly funny and hilarious. It is also possible that Russia seeks to bargain concessions or support in the arctic in return for whoever they are supporting bucking the Ukraine consensus. They certainly do not bet on that happening (that would be foolish), but opening that possibility is usefull.

    Going back to Syria, there may be a dynamic with Iran involved. Both Iran and Russia hate ISIS, and both would like to pass the costs of crushing ISIS onto the other. Both are also aware of that prisoners dilemma equivalent. It is likely that Iran wanted to see a proof of Russian commitment before commiting more of its own forces. Iran likely fears being drawn in to deep, getting isolated, and then having the USA kinetically renegotiating the Iran bargain while their Pasdaran are in Syria/Irak.
    If that is the angle, it is a reasonable demand by the Iranians, and Russia acceeding to it should not surprise anyone.

    As a last point, Russia loses nothing by acting quite responsibly in other areas.


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