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...
For those of you wondering what it might take for Western leaders to persuade Vladimir Putin to take a tougher line on Syria, a little Google search is instructive.
Type in the keywords “Putin talks tough”, or “Putin slams West” and you generate millions – yes, millions - of results in which Russia’s paramount leader is seen heaping opprobrium on shriveling, hypocritical Western powers.
Enter the words “Putin bends”, by contrast, and you still get several million results.
Except most of them involve Putin bending others, both people and objects, as in: “Putin bends cooking pan with bare hands”.
When it comes to Russian diplomacy in the post-Arab Spring era, Putin is like obsidian, a hard black volcanic glass that can fracture to create very sharp edges.
These qualities make obsidian a prized element in surgical scalpel tools.
Much has been made of Russia’s economic and strategic interests in Syria in order to explain – even justify - Putin’s intransigence on Syria.
To be sure, Syria is a long-standing ally of Russia and its only firm foothold in a Middle Eastern region of shifting allegiances.
Sentinel of a mighty Russia
It is also, as Hillary Clinton reminded the world last week, a reliable client for Russian weapons (even if Putin denies that any Russian arms are used to fuel civil conflict in Syria or any other country).
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.
Putin has made little secret of his nostalgia for the defunct Soviet Union.
For him, the collapse of the USSR was the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. The man he holds responsible for the debacle - Mikhail Gorbachev - is, in the Putinian worldview (and one shared by an alarmingly large number of his compatriots) a historic bungler of epic proportions.
All of Putin’s foreign policy initiatives have played to this sense of wounded pride.
Much like Bashar Assad, Putin perceives himself, and his country, as misunderstood victims of a pernicious Western plot to subvert and undermine the values of an eternal Russia that he holds dear.
There is little that Assad has done to suppress the uprising in Syria that Putin hasn’t already tried on his own home front.