Russia’s bombing of Syria has much greater meaning than the context of Russia simply coming to aid of its greatest ally in the Middle-East. This is a very serious event that will set the parameters of Putin’s next strategic action.
A few weeks ago, I watched the Putin interview on 60 Minutes. Amidst a barrage of accusations by Charlie Rose, a calm and collected Putin rationally articulated his posture on a number of political topics. And his responses provided the viewer a glimmer of insight into his psyche that is seldom captured by the press.
Putin once said that the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century was the break-up of the Soviet Union. Most people understood this statement to mean that Putin’s objective was to reclaim all former Soviet countries and reinstitute the KGB. And with that statement Putin instantly ignited fears that a new cold war with Russia was eminent.
But Putin doesn’t necessarily want to rebuild the Soviet Union as it once was. He does however want to restore Russia to greatness and give her a prominent position on the world stage. That may require the acquisition of key strategic territories. He also wants to assert himself as a respected world leader which drives his motives in Syria.
During this interview, Putin elaborated on his statement in which he laments the Soviet Union’s collapse. He gave an example of Russians who assimilated into various Soviet countries that were unified under one Soviet Empire and when the Soviet Union broke up they found themselves in foreign lands. What was important about this explanation was the undertone of his message. Putin described the order that existed under the Soviet Union and the very chaos and confusion brought about by its collapse.
If you study Putin’s past you would learn that the impact of his experiences helped form his current political posture. In 1989, Putin was stationed in Dresden when a group of protesters took over Stasi headquarters. The crowd began to make its way up the road to the KGB headquarters. A worried, young Putin called the Red Army Tank Unit for backup. This phone call had a profound effect on Putin, as the voice on the other end of the phone said they were waiting for orders from Moscow, but Moscow was silent.
Putin felt abandoned by his own government and strongly believes in the in the central authority of the state as means of containment and order. During his time in Germany, Putin witnessed the collapse of the Berlin Wall and had a first-hand account of what could happen when the masses take to the streets. Putin continues see the masses topple their leaders and install what he believes to be illegitimate governments.
So, it is no surprise that Putin won’t support any strategy that may have a hand in overthrowing a regime. He has been quite vocal about this all along and his actions have consistently supported his view. He also blames intervention from the West as a primary factor for the chaos that exists in the Middle East today; including the emergence of ISIS, which many believe was the result of the void left by removal of Saddam Hussein.
Putin has clearly stated his view on Syria and believes that any fight against ISIS has to involve the Assad regime. The US and NATO have a different view but the situation is unfolding at a much faster rate than decision makers in Washington can respond. Putin’s actions on the contrary have been decisive and swift and that leaves the US and NATO in a quagmire.
With each bold move that Putin makes without consequence further proves that the West has no appetite to go toe to toe with him. The danger is that as an emboldened Putin looks for his next strategic conquest he may very well set his sights on a NATO target. And if that should happen then we will reach the final culmination in which we will get our long-awaited answer to this very critical question: will anyone stop Putin?