For years, Russia has been helping Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad cling to a diminishing power structure in a shrinking territorial base without trying to impose an overall strategy.
Now, however, there are signs that Russia isn’t content to just support Assad. It wants to control Syria.
The Putin treatment is reserved for countries in Russia’s “near neighborhood” that try to break out of Moscow’s orbit and deprive it of strategic assets held for decades.
Russia’s military intervenes directly and indirectly, always with help from a segment of the local population concerned. Russia starts by casting itself as protector of an ethnic, linguistic or religious minority that demands its military intervention against a central power vilified with labels such as “fascist” and “terrorist.”
The first nation to experience the Putin treatment was Georgia in 2008, when Russian tanks moved in to save the Persian-speaking Ossetian minority and the Turkish-speaking Abkhazians from “the fascist regime” in Tbilisi.
Initially, Putin had feared that the US or the European Union might not let his war of conquest go unpunished. But nothing happened. President Obama talked of “reset” with Moscow, agreed to set up a joint committee to look into the matter and then allowed the whole thing to fade away.
Tested in Georgia with success, the Putin treatment was next applied to Ukraine, where a pro-West regime was talking of joining the European Union and even NATO. Russia intervened in Crimea to “save” its Russian-speaking majority from oppression.
Facing no opposition, Putin simply annexed Crimea before giving the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine the same treatment, this time with the help of “Russian volunteers” coming to help fellow Russian-speakers.
In Ossetia, Putin gained control of key passages to Chechnya and upper Caucasus.
In Abkhazia, he extended Russian presence on the Black Sea.
In Crimea, he saved the Russian Navy’s largest base.
In Donetsk he obtained a political pistol aimed at the temple of the government in Kiev.
Pro-West Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is threatened after Putin helped Armenia snatch the enclave of Upper Qarabagh (Nagorno Karabakh) in Transcaucasia.
Russia has always seen itself as the “Third Rome” and the last standard-bearer of Christianity against both Catholic “deviation” and Islamist menace.
By controlling a new mini-state, as a “safe haven for minorities,” Russia could insist that if Syria returns to some normality it be reconstituted as a highly decentralized state. This is what Putin is also demanding in Georgia and Ukraine.
The Syrian coast will become another Crimea, if not completely annexed, at least occupied.
Unless stopped, the Putin treatment will not end in Syria. The two next candidates could be Moldova and Latvia, both of which have large Russian-speaking minorities.
While President Obama practices a postmodern diplomacy of perceptions — in other words window-dressing — Putin perfects his pre-modern power play.
Putin has arranged it so that no matter what happens in Syria, he wins — and we lose.
Full article: Putin is turning the Syrian coast into another Crimea (NY Post)