This analysis appeared in Ekho Moskvy, traditionally a more liberal outlet that often criticizes Putin. Though long, it is a fascinating analysis of the dynamic between Putin, Obama, and Assad, and argues that Putin, like “The Godfather,” manipulated the situation in order to come out on top. – Ed.
“I read in his face a mixture of cowardice, no great intelligence, a lack of talent and some sort of suppressed complexes which make him a very dangerous individual.
“He is a gangster. A gangster knows how to do a lot. Stalin was a gangster. But those with whom he played the political game still perceived him as a human being. Yet he wasn’t a human being, he didn’t have human emotions. Yes, perhaps in that sense, he is comparable to Stalin.
“I talked with him a little bit – right after Khodorkovsky’s arrest. Putin at that time was president and was awarding me a medal. That is, those were the days when he did not yet take off his mask. But when I mentioned the name of Khodorkovsky, he turned green. His reaction was biological. Before me now was no mask at all, but a terrible, blood-thirsty man. I saw this with my own eyes. Therefore, everything that happened later no longer surprised me…
“Putin is a godfather in an enormous gang.
“I don’t expect any good to come from him, but expect bad – if he becomes very frightened, he could start shooting and jailing…” – Vyacheslav Ivanov
Guys, I study at the Ryazan Institute for Russian Airborne Troops. Today, Putin came to visit us, and you know what? He isn’t like how we see him on the TV screens. He is awfully terrifying, and from his look alone, I, a hardened gangster from the hood (as I thought myself) felt like crying. Now I am just shivering from horror, so don’t yell at me too much for my incoherent text. – A blogger
One of the few (three or four) Russian people living today, to whom the definition of “genius” can really be applied, the last encyclopedist of the departing era, cultural critic and visionary Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov expressed his view on the topic of our “national leader” about a year and a half ago. Ever since, his characterization of the national leader as a major kingpin has gained broad international support.
The editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, who crowned Putin the most authoritative politician of the world, explains his choice as follows: “Barack Obama showed weakness, whereas Vladimir Putin acts decisively on the international arena. Thus, this year he played a key role in resolving the Syrian question.”
Truly, Putin’s resolve in achieving the goals he set himself in Syria, by contrast with the helplessness and incompetence of Obama and the majority of Western leaders, made a shocking impression on the world. The traditional allies and partners of the USA were forced to think about a lot. This produced a new generation of useful bourgeois idiots who decorated the streets of European and American cities with the graffiti “Putin Peace-maker!”.
And it goes without saying what delight was provoked in our blessed Fatherland by the demonstrative humiliation of the USA before the whole world as a country that could not be relied upon and on which you could wipe your feet with impunity. I will note, to be sure, that 80% of this work was fulfilled by Obama himself, and 10% by Assad.
Nevertheless, the long-forgotten feeling of deep satisfaction rightfully filled our hearts. The entire political class was seized with joy – both the stern government vertikal [top-down command structure] and the glamorous opposition cream of society. And the trembling doe lay down with the fierce predator. Yevgeniya Markovna [Albats] and Aleksandr Andreyevich [Prokhanov] united in the Great Russians’ feeling of national pride.
Putin made a brilliant move…An absolutely brilliant move…That Putin proposed to be a peace-maker in conditions when nobody wanted to get involved in this nightmare, yes, it was a brilliant move,” said one person.
But the main thing is that Putin out-maneuvered him on the Syrian issue. That is the amazing virtuosity of Putin, who, without possessing any aircraft carriers, with a fairly weak economy, without any powerful intelligence, could do this… He and his entourage (the Foreign Ministry people) managed to break ahead and impose the Russian conception on the world. And Obama in this case remained in the shadows, he lost in this battle of intellects and these virtuoso constructions,” exclaimed another.
This unity received the blessing of His Holiness Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church: “The struggle for a worthy place of Russia among other powers continues even in our time, especially in light of recent events around Syria and peace-making efforts undertaken by our country and personally Vladimir Putin” – and the no less holy patriarch of Russian political journalism [a reference to Ekho Moskvy’s editor Aleksandr Venediktov] who this time, too, the benevolent ones invited as an interlocutor to the feast.
Of course he cannot tell us about everything in detail but he is their witness to high performances, he was admitted to their council and quickly, like a celestial being, drank from their chalice of Moselle!
After all of these delights and acknowledgements, and the chalice of Moselle, still, let’s try to analyze in more detail just what happened, and the main thing, what is still to happen in Syria, and also what brilliant move exactly enabled Putin and Assad to ‘win” at this stage of the Syrian crisis.
Syria for Putin’s Russia is much more than just Syria. The defeat in the cold war, the loss of empire, and most importantly, the quarter-century pillaging of the country by its own “political elite,” has moved Russia and her “elite” out of the super-league and into the first and perhaps even the second division of world politics. What our elites feel the most keenly is a painful blow to their personal egos.
It is no accident that these major embezzlers of the public coffers, who have turned the Russian state itself into an instrument of their crimes, talk about their uniqueness and high spirituality so much, contrasting it with the mercantilism of the decadent West.
The material prosperity that would have been unthinkable for the Soviet nomenklatura [Party and state elite] is not enough for them. The Russian political upper crust thirsts for greatness, greatness and more greatness. Alas, there are no objective signs of this greatness at all – not in the indicators of the country’s economic and technological development, not in the standard of living, education and health of the people it rules. The “elite” can change these very unpleasant parameters only through long, hard work, and above all, by ending their irresponsible attitude to their country and their fellow citizens.
But there is an easier way to “greatness,” to the sweet sensation of one’s own significance. For that, it is enough to declare oneself the beloved focus of world spirituality, purity, humanism and justice: the Shining Temple on the Hill and Shambala simultaneously, beset on all sides by dark forces of globalism, Atlanticism, homosexuality, Wahhabism, and Zionist Masonist Satanism. With such a spiritually uplifting posing of the question, foreign policy automatically turns into an incessant virtual sticking of hedgehogs down the pants of the decadent West.
It’s a very pleasant pastime and for now, it’s safe. First, the hedgehogs are virtual as a rule, and second, the growth of the Western foreign policy establishment subverted by the Kremlin proceeds at no less a rapid pace.
The prime ministers and chancellors of proud Europe, tempted by enormous gratuities, lined up to get a sinecure at one of Putin’s gas stations. Frightened by the Boston terrorist attack, American politicians repeat the same mantra over and over in a chorus: “We must not get Putin mad, he is helping us in the war on international terrorism.”
Putin has contempt for his partners in the G8 and doesn’t consider it necessary to hide his true feelingс. He forces the US Secretary of State to wait three hours in his waiting room. Congressmen who come to cooperate in investigating the Boston bombing get an open and demonstrative piss in the eye, with the Russians claiming that Moscow knew nothing about Tsarnaev’s stay in Russia from January to August 2012. The Secretary of State and members of Congress smile and thank them for their cooperation. And it is Syria that has become the favorite subject for Moscow to stick hedgehogs down the pants of the West.
In the bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, the Kremlin has connived to chose its own side, socially close to its intellectual brethren, the Alawite sect (10% of the population) which is in power and armed to the teeth (both the army and security forces), and which is suppressing the Sunni majority (65% of the population).
This choice was predetermined by the paranoid picture of events of recent years in the Middle East which formed in the minds not only of the Kremlin elite but the majority of the Russian political class: the “Arab Spring” is invented and organized by the Americans, they have prepared this scenario for us and will continue to implement it – first Mubarak, then Qaddafi, then Assad and finally, it’s terrible to think, Our Everything. In this system of coordinates, the task of keeping Assad in power at any cost has become for Putin deeply personal, as he was visibly affected by the demise of Qaddafi.
The wedged hedgehogs began gradually to turn from virtual to quite real with the delivery of modern weapons, of course, “to the lawful authorities of Syria.” In the summer, Moscow and Damascus were about to speak proudly of a contract for sale by Russia to the Syrian government of S-300 systems which were just about to be delivered any minute. Just like four years ago, when the question arose about the delivery of these same S-300s to Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately made an emergency visit to Russia. Upon return, he announced that his government knew what it would do with the S-300 systems delivered to Syria. Putin stepped back a bit just in case, emphasizing at a press conference that the S-300s were not delivered yet.
Meanwhile, the open external interference in the Syrian war by the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iranian revolutionary guards markedly changed the balance of forces and enabled Assad to attain several military successes and continue the mass murder of the Sunnis. That in turn activated calls to provide aid to the rebels. Egypt broke diplomatic relations with Syria and demanded the introduction of a no-fly zone. The discussion grew much more acute in the U.S. Obama was forced to mumble something once again about some red line – the use of chemical weapons by Assad (in the firm assurance that he would never cross that line) – and about the possible delivery of arms to moderate rebels.
And here Assad and Putin make that brilliant move and realize this virtuoso intellectual maneuver, which brought Yevgeniya Markovna [Albats], Aleksandr Andreyevich [Prokhorov], the Nobel Committee and along with them, all of progressive humankind into such ecstasy. On 21 August, Assad launched a chemical missile attack against the suburbs of Damascus, held by the opposition. More than a thousand civilians were killed. This was a minor, routine evil deed for a national leader who before that had killed already 100,000 of his fellow citizens, which didn’t give him any military dividends. The strategic and political significance of this action consisted exclusively in that Assad demonstratively and provocatively crossed the red line carelessly drawn by the American president.
Of course, Assad and Putin immediately claimed that it was the opposition that had itself attacked with chemical missile warheads. This version of the story was confirmed in an interview by Russia Today, known for its impeccable reputation, with Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib, abbess of the Russian Orthodox monastery. But unfortunately, the story was refuted by chemical and ballistic analysis by two UN commissions. If Putin really believed that the rebels have such advanced chemical weapons systems and means for its delivery, then long ago he would have stopped working on Syria and got busy cancelling the Olympics in Sochi. Because that would mean that the North Caucasus jihadists, widely represented today in Syria, have access to them.
In Russia, all the Kremlin propagandists repeat the same “convincing” arguments which they put out over their networks especially for the progressive public: yes, it is possible that Assad is an evil-doer, but he is not a stupid man, he can’t help but realize the consequences to which is chemical strike will lead.
Absolutely true! Assad and Putin, perhaps, aren’t any Spinozas, but both of them understand perfectly well that the chemical attack of 21 August would lead exactly to the consequences to which they have in fact led. As Vyacheslav Ivanov would say, they know how to do a lot. They figured out Obama. He was weighed by them and found to be very light-weight. They figured out that Obama would be forced to react somehow at the scornful attitude toward his red line, to the shocking scenes of the deaths of children on the screens of the world’s televisions, that he would pronounce some loud, condemnatory words, but at the same time would desperately search for an opportunity to limit himself only to those words. And here Putin and Assad proposed to him a face-saving “piano in the bushes” [i.e. an image taken from a Soviet show signifying a contrived occasion that purports to be spontaneous] under the title of a plan for chemical disarmament. This “piano” had long ago been outlined by Russian diplomacy in negotiations at the G8, but Putin and Assad would never have played it so masterfully with four hands if it hadn’t been for the chemical attack on 21 August.
Literally in the course of several days, the virtuoso intellectual construction of Putin and Assad enabled them to completely substitute in the world perception the content of the Syrian agenda and in one stroke realize a whole set of goals that were very important to them:
- reduce the Syrian tragedy exclusively to issues of “chemical disarmament”;
- protect Assad from any prospect of even minimal interference from the West (arms delivery) on the side of the opposition;
- enable Assad thus to remain in power and continue with the help of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia to destroy the Sunni population;
- furthermore, to transform this serial murderer and outcast into a respectable government figure on a world scale, with whom the UN in the coming years will conduct protracted negotiations on the practical realization of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement on chemical disarmament;
- reinforce in the public consciousness the Kremlin interpretation of international law as the sacred right of any cannibal to do everything he can think of, with the ciphers he entrusts to rule, if only he is protected in the Security Council by Putin himself;
- raise the world and internal gang authority of the Godfather of the thieves’ Judo-huriat [a reference to the fact that Putin is a judo master and uses sports as a means of state rule] as an effective fixer and simultaneous advocate of international law and fighter for peace throughout the world.
How will this new external situation affect the internal dynamics of the Syrian crisis? First of all, the role and influence of radical Islamists will increase sharply. Two years ago, the resistance of the Sunni majority, which in general had begun with peaceful demonstrations, was primarily secular. A full diplomatic isolation of Assad would have forced him and his entourage to find ways for a peaceful transformation of the regime. A sect that makes up only 10% of the population in any event cannot rule forever.
However, the cunning thesis of Russian propaganda prevailed, which Western public opinion happily swallowed: we can’t help the opposition, we will be bringing jihadists to power. Exactly the opposite turned out to be true. It was precisely the non-interference of the world community in the systematic destruction of the Sunni community by Assad’s Alawite sect, armed with Soviet and Russian weapons which led to the radicalization of the Sunnis and to the growth of influence of Islamist internationalists who appeared in the role of their only defenders.
Meanwhile, such a turn of events was not at all fatal. With minimal support from outside to the secular opposition, united in the Syrian Free Army, the Sunnis themselves would have kicked out of Syria the medieval fanatics mentally alien to them, like the Iraqi Sunni tribes in 2007 kicked out the Al Qaeda internationalist fighters who came to help them (now they are coming back again, but that’s already another story, the consequence of the stupidity of the Shiite government of al-Maliki.) This summer saw an increase in armed clashes between Sunnis and jihadists who tried to impose their barbaric Shariah rules on the population.
The implementation of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement, in which eyes are closed to all the regime’s crimes for the sake of the chimera of “chemical disarmament” will lead to the most negative scenario. Assad will murder tens, or hundreds of thousands more people, and all the social structures of the Sunni community will be destroyed. But even with Putin’s political cover, Assad will not manage to physically destroy the entire Sunni population (14 million people). The Sunni youth who survive, stripped of social roots, will not have any other way out except to fill the ranks of Al Qaeda and organizations close to it whose emissaries have been streaming to Syria. Saudi Arabia generously supports them with cash. This scenario is already being realized. Deprived of any support from without, demoralized by the reaction of the West to the brilliant move of Assad and Putin on 21 August, many fighters in the Syrian Free Army will join the jihadists from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq which only recently they had clashed.
A country located in the center of the Middle East and not so far from Russian borders right before our eyes will turn into the worst version of Afghanistan under the Taliban – into an enormous reservoir of Islamist terror ready to spill out. How could “progressive humankind” reach such a degree of intellectual and moral sclerosis, so as to call THIS peace-making and settling the Syrian conflict and demand that Putin (and why not jointly with Assad?!) be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
As for the world community, after about two years, it grew tired of the televised cadres of destroyed Syrian cities, killed children and fleeing refugees. After all, not everybody possesses a Nordic character and the mental health of one proud Jew who announced that “the Syrians are all equally hostile beasts to me anyway, so let them kill each other to their heart’s content. Until either ammunition or people run out.” And mercy sometimes knocks at their hearts. Both ordinary people and politicians would like to forget about all this horror, but hopefully with a sense of relief and having fulfilled their duty. Isn’t it better to convince yourself, repeating in a chorus: Putin, chemical disarmament, brilliant move, diplomatic settlement.
In the Russian establishment, the coronation of Putin as the alpha-male of the world “political elite,” naturally was met with the spiritually uplifting sentiments noted above. They will be short-lived and will turn to a bitter hangover when the Syrian Islamist reactor set in motion by Putin and Obama starts to run at its full designed capacity.
In fact, even today it is already obvious that Russian “godfatherhood” is of a miserable nature. Russia loves to thumb its nose at Western “partners,” having learned to pronounce this little word with gritted teeth, with Lavrov’s roar and Putin’s Botox cheeks. But all of these vividly expressed wonderful macho signs disappear when our Alexander Nevskys go to Beijing to creep under the yoke and sign the usual shackling agreements. These shy Little Red Riding Hoods don’t dare to ask the Chinese old lady why she has grown such big teeth, sharpened to a shine by the lessons of 2006 and 2009.
Yes, and in the post-Soviet space, “pro-Russian” professors with two prison sentences [a reference to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich] could care less about our godfathers. They can dupe the suckers of Europe and America with their Harvards and Oxfords. And a Polessky tractor driver [a reference to Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka] has banged their face against the table for two decades, extracting tens of billions of dollars in subsidies in exchange for fairy-tales about unification [with Russia]. We won’t even mention Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov]. It is time to sense godfatherhood as orphanhood.