Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Is the US Strike in Syria Putin’s ‘Matthias Rust’ Moment?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 11 – In May 1987, Matthias Rust flew his Cessna from West Germany through Soviet air controls and landed on Red Square, an action that forced Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership to rethink their position in the world and ultimately to change their policies at home and abroad.

            One Moscow commentator has drawn exactly that parallel between Rust and the Tomahawk strike (forum-msk.org/material/news/13056258.html). Others say that the latest US action is far worse for Moscow than Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter (rusmonitor.com/evgenijj-ikhlov-ehtot-geopoliticheskijj-razgrom-stal-stokrat-unizitelnejj-chem-tureckijj-perekhvat-bombardirovshhika-v-noyabre-2015.html).

            And still others point out that the attack shows that Vladimir Putin couldn’t defend his ally (nv.ua/opinion/goltz/putinskij-dutyj-puzyr-955388.html) and that in the emerging conflict with the West, Russia will have real allies beyond Iran and Hezbollah (ng.ru/politics/2017-04-10/100_echo10042017.html).

            The extreme quality of these mood swings – only a month ago, many in Moscow had concluded that Putin was winning in Syria and on his way to getting exactly what he wanted on Ukraine and sanctions not only from the new US president but from the West as well – means that they should be approached cautiously.

            But it is clearly the case that Putin and his regime have suffered a major reversal, one that they will be compelled to respond to quite possibly in ways positive and negative that no one, including themselves, could have anticipated last month. Just how problematic Moscow’s situation may be is highlighted by Moscow journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov.

            In a commentary for Ekho Moskvy, he suggests that Putin’s policies up to this point have disappeared in much the same way that he promised to “disappear” the Chechens at the start of his rule, a conclusion supported by the Kremlin’s inability to find more allies than Iran and Hezbollah (echo.msk.ru/blog/kiselev/1960108-echo/).

                By issuing a joint statement with Iran and the Palestinian organization, Kiselyov says, Moscow has highlighted its isolation and the absurdity of its appeals to international law given that not only Iran and the Palestinian group have routinely flouted international law but so too has Russia; and it has done so in a way for the entire world to see.

            But the Kremlin – and that means Putin – has done something else as well: it has shown that Russia’s “national interests” are playing no role in what is going on.  “There is only the megalomania of one may who wants to be not only Russian president for life but also the master of the seas and oceans as well.”

            Putin can be such “only in the dreamed-up world where the Russian president lives,” the journalist says.  When reality intervenes, as it has this time with the display of American power, no one is going to accept his version. As a result, “there isn’t going to be a new Yalta or a new Potsdam,” about which so many speculated even a few weeks ago.

            Putin and others may complain about the US continuing to be “the world’s policeman,” Kiselyov concludes, but “this role is a more worthy one than the role of an international hooligan” which is all the Kremlin leader has shown himself capable of being.

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