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Opinion:
Douglas HERBERT

Douglas HERBERT
International Affairs Editor

Putin and Assad: Blood Brothers (2)

Le 04-06-2012

The real reason Putin is unlikely to bend on Syria – ultimately forcing Western powers to find a way to bypass the Russian roadblock – has to do with Putin’s own vision of himself as the sentinel of a mighty Russia that doesn’t take moral lessons from the West. Read first part here.

Echoes of Chechnya

Russia’s brutal suppression of the rebellion in Chechnya – a two-stage, multi-year war in which over 100,000 were killed or disappeared – is a mirror image, on an even larger scale, of the atrocities recorded by UN officials in Syria.

Neither is it a very far leap from the summary brutality with which Russia’s crack riot police, the OMON, have dealt with protesters in Moscow in recent months, and the violence perpetrated on Syria’s “armed gangs” by thugs allied to the Assad regime.

Putin never tires of insisting that all he desires is a political solution to a complicated conflict, that avoids the worst-case scenario of civil war.

He also maintains that Russia is less interested in the political future of Bashar Assad, than in seeing a peaceful outcome for the Syrian people.

Yet reality belies those assertions. Fact is, Assad’s model of conflict management is one that suits Putin perfectly.

"Whack them in the..."

You may recall Putin’s notorious quip a few years back about Chechen extremists: "We'll follow terrorists everywhere. Should we catch them in a sh**house, we'll whack them in a sh**house."

Bashar Assad may share similar sentiments about his own “terrorists” – but it would be hard to imagine even the Syrian strongman putting it so crudely, in public.

A recent public opinion poll showed Putin’s popularity, at 55%, returning to 2010 levels – before a sudden sharp decline in 2011.

At a time when he is weakened at home, facing the rising disaffection of a new generation of young and Internet-savvy protesters, standing firm on Syria – and standing up to the West – is one of the few trump cards Putin has left.

And you can bet he will play it to the hilt.

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