Putin rehashes Ukraine rhetoric on Syria, but Nazi comparisons fail to convince

October 7, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande sit together at the start of a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and French President Francois Hollande sit together at the start of a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 2, 2015.REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool

It took only one sitting for Russia’s upper house of parliament to fall into line, and approve Russian military action in Syria — just like it had done a year before in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church was equally quick to declare President Vladimir Putin’s fight against “terrorism” in Syria “holy,” adding spiritual to governmental blessing of Putin’s military adventure in Syria.

Before bombing started, nearly 70 percent of Russians opposed direct Russian military involvement in Syria. Since then, Putin has relied on a holy trinity of the parliament, Church and media to help make his appetite for war more palatable to his people. But Syria is not Ukraine, and talk of Nazis and protecting the “Russian world” are less plausible to justify military action in Syria. Though opposition is scant, Putin’s rhetoric — combined with imperial overreach into the Middle East — risks shaking the hold on power that made it easy for him to send troops to Syria in the first place.

Since the start of his third term, Putin has fostered a close alliance with the Church, relying on it to champion his decisions in overwhelmingly Orthodox-identifying Russia. Religious justifications for actions have become an increasingly important part of Putin’s propaganda strategy at home. Last year Putin justified annexing Crimea by declaring it “sacred” and “like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews” — despite the fact it was only incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1783.

Russian media has been adding to the religious connection by applying the same arguments it used to support separatists in Ukraine. The loosely-defined “Russian world” that the Russian media claimed to include parts of Ukraine has now been expanded to make room for Syria. On a Russian debate program a member of Russian parliament, Semyon Bagdasarov, argued that there was “no Orthodoxy or Russia without Syria” and that the historical tradition of Orthodoxy in now-Muslim-majority Syria makes it a “holy land” for Russians and “their” land.

In his weekly televised monologue Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya, linked Russia’s military actions in Syria to the Soviet’s Union’s fight against Nazi Germany. He has made similar comparisons before, accusing Ukraine’s pro-Western government of being a fascist junta that needed to be opposed like Hitler’s Germany. This time he referred to Putin’s claim that the Islamic State posed a Nazi-like threat and required a similar coalition of opponents, calling it a “very precise” rationale for bombing Syria.

Russian media, however, seemed to reach new levels of absurdity when one anchor gave a weather report for Syria, emphasizing that the low winds and minimal precipitation had made October an ideal time for Russian airstrikes. The message seemed to be that even the weather was cooperating with Russian military intervention in Syria.

Many of the people justifying Russia’s involvement in Syria are playing to a system that requires and rewards supporting Putin’s actions once he has declared them. As Putin has re-centralized power in Russia, most governmental, media and civil society organizations function first and foremost to support him.

“There is no political elite,” said Mikhail Fishman, Editor-in-Chief of Slon magazine in an interview for Internet news network Hromadske International. “There is just one decision, and when the decision is made the political elite just stand behind it.” They are all “branches of the same political organism called Putin or the Kremlin,” Fishman said.

To consolidate his power, Putin has worked to hollow out government and civil society organizations. In doing so, he has made Russia a closed circuit that does not accept feedback and does not tolerate dissent. The centralization of power allows for swift displays of military force — like the rolling out of troops and airstrikes in days — and is frightening because of its ability to justify military action anywhere in the world.

But the centralization of power has also made the state structure extremely brittle. The one-way flow of information prevents feedback about what is not working. Putin may be using many of the same arguments in Syria he used a year ago in Ukraine, but Russia is no longer the same country. Russians continues to be unenthusiastic about military involvement in Syria, the Russian economy is in recession with nearly 16 percent inflation, and Putin has been paying for these wars by taking money from pension funds. The institutions that now only function to rubber stamp Putin’s decisions cannot address these problems, and conjuring Nazis and tracing Russian society back to Syria won’t make these facts go away.






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> Putin has fostered a close alliance with the Church
Forget about rational logic in Russia. There is no populace, only Putin and his worldwide network of thugs. Any attempt by the US govt to wait for Russian citizen revolt will fail. In this the article is exactly correct. A third of Russians feel respect for Joseph Stalin and 45 per cent believe his repressions were at least “to some extent” justified. Stalin was equal to the worst mass murderers in history and this insane view of reality is what makes Russia so dangerous.
Obama has completely underestimated the threat Putin and RUSSIA pose. Somebody please get a sane US policy toward Putin because he’s winning all his battles in case anyone hasn’t noticed.

Posted by tribeUS | Report as abusive

Also the fact that this Syrian conflict together with the one in Ukraine, to have been started by US in the name of regime change in the former and trade reasons in the latter, won’t go-away as well.

This well known proxy-war that was started by US and brought to meaningful conclusion in Ukraine by Russia and in the process toward such a conclusion in Syria, exemplify the leadership prowess and meticulous execution by Russia, while contrasting the the gross ineffectiveness of our long-drawn operations with no conclusive result. This calls for change at the top.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Just finished my morning coffee watching ISIS finally getting pounded by the Ruskie’s .

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Happy Birthday to Vladimir The Righteous !!!

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

We should help Putin in advance for helping wean us off of our Saudi addiction.

Posted by cratewasher | Report as abusive

Our idea of fighting ISIS was to form a coalition made up of the financiers of ISIS.
No wonder Putin’s approach, after exercising an incredible amount patience with the Western approach, has proven to be more effective; and ultimately beneficial to the West, and the entire region. That’s why Iraq is considering inviting Russia to help in their battles with the Sunni psychos.
The main loser: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State Monarchies.
Now, let’s talk about Yemen.

Posted by cratewasher | Report as abusive

This is pure Western Propaganda, there is not a single piece of information in this article just Russia and Putin bashing.

Posted by rotu189 | Report as abusive

The reports I have read so far indicate the Russians are not doing so well in Syria.

Posted by Slammy | Report as abusive

If Putin holds all of the power here, then we need to ask, what does he actually stand to gain from conquering new territory? Money from control of trade routes and natural resources? a more secure throne within Russia? or is he just building an empire for empire’s sake?

Posted by Sewblon | Report as abusive

@Sewblon Russia has always wanted a warm water port. With allaince of Syria, Putin will be able to give the Russians a warm water port into the Mediterranian. Military and trade will increase, gaining him power. With him flexing his powers, I think he could be preparing a start for another unwanted Cold War.

Posted by HollisBassMasta | Report as abusive