Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Putin’s Syrian War Echoing in Russia and Especially in Chechnya

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 21 – The murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara has called attention to two thing, Ilya Milsheyn says, the ways in which the Syrian campaign is very different than Putin’s wars in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine and the inability of the powers that be to provide a generally accepted explanation of why Russian forces have been sent to Syria.

            Unlike the war in Chechnya which took place within the borders of the Russian Federation and the wars in Georgia and Ukraine which have occurred in neighboring and formerly Soviet republics, the Syrian campaign for Russians is “somewhere beyond the seven seas,” the Moscow commentator says (

            The people in Syria, both allies and opponents, are culturally distant from Russians. Syria itself is not somewhere many Russians have visited or planned to, the people there don’t speak Russian, and thus “the answer to the question” of why Russian forces have been dispatched there has remained far from “obvious” to Russians.

            And that question, Milshteyn says, is becoming ever more insistent as the ever more obvious threats that Moscow’s involvement in Syria have for those in the military and even for those like the ambassador who are not and for ordinary Russians if anti-Russian groups in Syria try to retaliate inside Russia as they have threatened to do.

             Russia finds itself in a trap and Russians, both the citizenry and the elites, increasingly recognize that reality.  “The tragedy of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov,” in fact, “is the tragedy of the Russian bosses” who don’t know whom to listen to or how to explain what is going on.

            One thing is obvious: “The bosses certainly do not want that streets in Asian capitals and even in Russia be renamed in his honor,” and they don’t take this position out of modesty but out of fear of what the appearance of such streets will provoke, feelings that almost inevitably will call into question what the top of Putin’s power vertical are doing.

            Paradoxically, such fears are being highlighted by two very different developments in Chechnya, the site of the Kremlin leader’s first great victory in the minds of many Russians. On the one hand, Moscow is raising two battalions of Chechens to fight in Syria, despite the presence of many Chechens in ISIS forces and the opposition of Russian commanders.

            Moscow has been forced to take this step for demographic reasons, and that too highlights in the minds of many that Russia’s show of force in Syria rests on an increasingly shaky foundation (; cf.

                And on the other, over the past three weeks, there have been new murderous attacks against the authorities in Grozny by militants whom many assume have launched these attacks in response to Russia’s use of airpower in Aleppo (

            Few Chechens support those who launched the attacks, “Novaya gazeta” suggests; but it adds that anger and radicalization among the Chechens appears to be increasing. Specifically, it notes that Moscow is finding it far more difficult to recruit Chechens for service in Syria than it did to enlist them to fight in Ukraine.

            And that suggests, the Moscow paper warns, that the longer Moscow stays in Syria, the more radicalization there will be in Chechnya, with all the horrific consequences for Russia that will entail, just one more of the ways in which Putin’s Syrian war is coming home to roost in ways few Russians are likely to be happy about.

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