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Russia's Syria Intervention: A Geopolitical Coup of the Decade?

Originally appeared at The Unz Review

Three weeks ago, in Syria and the Three Wars, I identified a few possible pitfalls as well as advantages that could accrue from this. To date, Russia hasn’t fallen into any of the pitfalls, and lapped up all the advantages.

Possible pitfalls

Afghanistan-like quagmire – Nope. Still no ground intervention on the horizon. One suicide, zero direct military casualties. (Though the Saker does identify incipient mission creep).

Will enable “Putinsliv” (abandonment) of Novorossiya – Contra Prosvirnin & Co.’s fears, there is no indication that this is happening either. (At the moment tensions are beginning to heat up again there. Considering the multitude of false war scares we’ve had there, however, chances are it will continue to remain frozen for the foreseeable future).


Provide RL training – Is happening.

“Politely” demonstrate Russian military power – This plan was not just fulfilled but overfulfilled, with many second-rate Western analysts apparently shocked – shocked! – that Russia with its decades-old Orc Tech built a functional air base from scratch within a few month from which it maintains extremely high fighter sortie rates that put the USAF to shame, and flings cruise missiles from thousands of miles away with pinpoint precision.

Even observers otherwise familiar with Russian military capitabilities were impressed by the magnitude of the improvements since the South Ossetian War. Incidentally, and exactly as I suggested, this also makes a mockery – in the most graphic and explicit terms possible – of the Ukrainian junta’s tall tales that it was “at war” with Russia and beat back Pskov paratrooper brigades and Buryat divisons by the dozen.

Further Advantages

That I hadn’t spelled out in detail, but which are becoming increasingly evident.

Very good PR both for the Russia Stronk! crowd and beyond – To be fair, at least until the Paris Attacks, this was limited to Putin’s usual Western fans – i.e., those not under the spell of neocon “Assad killing his own people” propaganda (i.e. a decided minority). But nice to have nonetheless. The world defender of Christian civilization, and not just in word, as was the case before, but in deed.

And the “only one” such, according to a remarkable recent statement by Assad (this does make one wonder if there is anything to the rumors that Alawites are actually crypto-Christians).

The Russians are now getting called crusaders by Islamists, an honor previously reserved for just the US and its allies (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that). Here is an inspirational video on this “Holy Crusader Order” theme by a Russian “patriotic trolling” group:

Western narrative shift after Paris? – It was clear that Russia was going to be at loggerheads with the US and its allies/satraps once it waded into Syria. Indeed, some of the crazier neocons and US Republicans were calling for the US to establish a no fly zone (which would have been a direct act of military aggression against Russia), though I never expected anything to come out of that since it was inevitable that the hotheads would be set straight by the hard realists at the Pentagon if things ever went that far south.

Nor was I expecting anything particularly game changing in the wake of the Paris Attacks (in the bleakest version, if anything, the Western elites would merely use them as a cynical ploy to double down on their anti-Assad stance).

But in the event, things appear to be surprising to the upside, and in a very major and unexpected way. Hawkish Hollande, more American than the (post-Bush) Americans in his zeal for intervention, has finally admitted that ISIS is France’s prime enemy, not Assad. Not perfect, but good enough.

The Russian military in the Levant has been told to treat the French soldiers incoming on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier as allies. Although speaking of any wider rapprochment in West-Russia relations is very clearly premature, the worst outcomes now appear to be ruled out and things are looking up. Obama has even called Putin a “constructive partner” in the Syria talks, which would have been unimaginable just a year ago when he was the butt of Western opprobrium at the Brisbane G20 summit.

Considering that Putin remains constant to his position – the same as that proposed by Kofi Annan at the 2012 Geneva Conference – that Assad must be included in any negotiations between the regime and (truly) moderate factions about political transition, the apparent dropping of the removal of Assad as the West’s Number One priority in Syria basically implies that the Western political elites have been forced come round to the point of view of their worst international bugbear.

These political developments are getting reflected in the Western media. Even the neocon rag The Daily Beast has gone from “Russia’s Giving ISIS an Air Force” to “Russia Pounds ISIS with Biggest Bomber Raid in Decades.”



Irish journalist Danielle Ryan has a very good article on the diplomatic aspects of this development at The BRICS Post:

Before the Paris attacks, some analysts had been worriedly warning that Putin was winning the “PR war” in Syria. In the aftermath, Moscow’s articulation of its position looks less like PR and more like an appeal to common sense.

To risk an understatement, it’s depressing that 132 innocent people had to die in Paris before Obama, Cameron et al realized that Russia could be an indispensable partner in the fight against ISIS, and that disagreements over the fate of Assad should not be “the altar on which the country of Syria is slaughtered”.

If only this realization could have been made in 2010, when the Syrian government offered Western powers a chance to join up and fight ISIS together. Or in 2012, when Russia is rumoured to have offered the West a proposal which would have seen Assad step down as part of a broad peace deal.

Shady actors hurrying to tidy themselves up – So very conveniently soon after the Paris Attacks, Qatar arrested 6 men who had been supplying arms, including MANPADS, to Islamic State.

Their provider? Ukraine.

Perhaps the Ukrainians took Interior Ministry bigwig Anton Geraschenko’s injunction to “help ISIS take revenge on Russia by the canons of sharia” a bit too literally. So pathological is Maidanist village hatred for Russia that many of them lack the self-awareness to comprehend that ISIS and their own Western sponsors don’t exactly see eye to eye.

(Ironically, it is not altogether impossible that this was because they took conspiracy theories from the more unhinged elements of the Russian nationalist scene about how the Americans control ISIS at face value.)

Certainly the Maidanist types have never had any compunctions about allying with people who ultimately despised them just to spit in Russia’s soup, from the Nazis in WW2 to Islamist fanatics today.

The alternative, less exciting but admittedly far more realistic possibility, is that this is a mere consequence of Ukraine’s failed state status.


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