Putin Support Of Syria Bolsters Russian Patriotism, Worries West

On Monday, September 28, 2015, President Vladimir Putin will speak to the United Nations General Assembly. While months ago it was the Ukraine that concerned Russia and the world, the primary subject is now Syria, where Islamic State has gained territory in expansion of the so-called Caliphate running through Iraq and Syria. Putin has decided to back Syrian President Assad, which is seen as one effective strategy for uniting against the terrorists.

Others see the political issue as an opportunity for the United States and Russia to speak on terms of carving up post-Assad authority in Syria.

One thing that is coming out of Putin’s moves in the Ukraine and Syria is a renewed patriotism in Russia. In short, President Putin is garnering populist support. Nicolai Petrov, a political science professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, describes the important function that Putin plays in Russian politics.

“All these preparations are aimed at attracting more attention to Putin.”

In short, Putin is continuing his “tough guy” persona by placing Russia — albeit opportunistically — at the center of a world crises. If Putin succeeds in driving out Islamic State in Syria, that action will prove that Russia is a significant international player. With Russia’s power of veto embedded into the rules of the United Nations, Russia — despite the objections of the West — has a say, pragmatically and legally.

Putin has run his entire presidency on Russian patriotism, owing partly to his charismatic personality and partly to Russia as the underdogs of the 21st Century economies. The post-1989 experiment with capitalism failed to bring Russia great wealth, but instead instantly dissolved the Soviet Union. The communist dream of expansion was over.

With Russia’s resurgence, the U.S. government has had to update its war policy to again consider Russia.

Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine and Syria have meant that civil war in these places involve Russia due to geopolitical factors, e.g. Russians living in the Ukraine and Syria a key ally of Russia, as well as Russia’s own involvement in supplying arms to the forces they support. Just last year’s November headlines read “Ukraine Prepares for All-Out War as Russian Tanks and Troops Enter Donetsk.” Russia is strong, at least in the media.

Stepan Zotov, a military-style, after-school club organizer summed it up to BBC News in an April 2015 interview regarding militarism and Russian youth views toward war in general.

“Russia is a military power. Our state is in a state of constant readiness to repel aggression. To be a warrior in Russia is not just a profession, it is a sacred calling. It is actually sacred, holy.”

Pushing the analogy forward, if patriotism is holy in Russia, then Vladimir Putin is clearly the prophet.

[Image by Salah Malkawi / Getty Images]