There should be nothing controversial about the notion that if Russia is setting back bomb-happy Islamists in Syria, other bomb-happy Islamists will try to get even
After terror struck Saint Petersburg Monday the Russian president gave neither the jingoistic cowboy performance popularized by George Bush nor did Russians engage in candle-lit spectacles of mass self-pity which have become popular in the west since then.
Instead as Gilbert Doctorow points out in a fine article Russians calmly and soberly discussed practical issues; how to better protect themselves next time while openly admitting there is no fail-safe defense against a determined terrorist.
As refreshing and laudable as such a response is, one aspect of a rational debate was sorely lacking: asking whether Russia's Syria intervention may have contributed to the attack.
In fact Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov riled against the very notion Monday's train bombing was revenge for Russia's involvement in that conflict. -- As if explaining the motive was the same as justifying the attack.
That is not the first time Russian leadership showed its extreme reluctance to make the connection between its war in Syria and Islamist terrorism against Russians.
After a Russian airliner taking off from Egypt was blown out of the sky in October 2015, it took the Russians extremely long to confirm this was in fact the work of ISIS, and only after they had eliminated all other possibilities.
Why a Syria-bound military transport plane was lost over the Black Sea in December 2016 was never explained, but that did not prevent investigators from eliminating terrorism as a possible cause early on.
Whatever you think of the Russian involvement in Syria, it's pretty clear the Russian government fears the Russian people will conclude the presence of their military in Syria is making them less safe. Ideally it wants to control the debate to make sure Russians never make the connection between Russian jets bombing jihadists in Syria and jihadists planting bombs in St. Petersburg.
The problem with that is that it goes against the spirit of democracy. Surely it is the people who bear both the financial and the blood cost of intervention who should decide whether they find it worthwhile or not, and for that they need all the pertinent information, without it being filtered through a government petrified of the decision the people might make.
Actually, I suspect that as long as they're convinced the Russian military involvement in Syria is for the good of that country (and in many cases it is, just don't expect the families of any civilians slain in the crossfire to agree) I suspect the Russians would continue to support it rather than give in to people bombing their trains and jets.
In this way government's timidity and attempted manipulation are not only undemocratic, but -- from the perspective of Russian intervention backers -- unnecessary and counterproductive.