Chechen and Afghan echoes of Putin’s military operation in Syria

Rubble of a White Helmet center in Aleppo after airstrikes. Photo: The Syria Campaign/fb.com

Rubble of a White Helmet center in Aleppo after airstrikes. Photo: The Syria Campaign/fb.com 

2016/10/02 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

On the first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s decision to introduce Russian forces into the Syrian civil war on the side of Damascus dictator Bashar al-Assad, commentators in Russia and Ukraine are pointing to ways in which this conflict recalls Moscow’s earlier interventions in Chechnya and before that in Afghanistan.

Their conclusions should be disturbing to all people of good will around the world given the brutality of Soviet and Russian actions in those wars, but they should also serve as a warning to Russia and Russians given that such military adventures did not end well for their authors or their authors’ country, however many victories Kremlin propagandists may claim.

Independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer notes that in Aleppo,

“The Russians are using the tactic of the period of the second Chechen war” when they destroyed civilian areas in cities in order to defeat their military opponent in the field.

The ruins of the city of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling and airplane bombing in effort to exterminate the defenders of the capitol of rebellious Chechnya. March 1995

The ruins of the city of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling and airplane bombing in effort to exterminate the defenders of the capitol of rebellious Chechnya. The Second Russo-Chechen War, March 1995

Whether this constitutes “’a war crime,’” the analyst says, is up to an international tribunal; but of course, if it is found to be such in one case, it could easily be extended to others.

Russian military commanders believe that if they can take Aleppo, “this will be a decisive victory” in the Syrian civil war, one that will give Asad a victory and make Damascus into what was true in Chechnya after the second Chechen war, a pro-Russian vassal that will help project Moscow’s power in the region.

But, Felgenhauer argues, Moscow is wrong.

Taking Aleppo by such massive and indiscriminate use of force may be possible, but that will not lead to the end of the civil war in Syria. That conflict will “in any case” continue; and even more people will die there as a result of the actions of Assad and his Russian allies.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Kudryk compares what Putin is doing in Syria with what his Soviet predecessors did in Afghanistan, a conflict that undermined the USSR, led to a Soviet withdrawal, but didn’t solve the problem of that Central Asian country.

At the moment, he says,

Many experts believe that Russia has “outplayed the West,” but most of them see this as a short-term rather than long-term result because, in the view of many of them, “Syria is becoming for Moscow a new Afghanistan,” a place it cannot withdraw from without risks at home and abroad but that it cannot gain what it hoped for either.

Moscow’s main goal in going into Syria was to force the West and above all the US to make a trade, with the West paying for Russian cooperation against terrorism in the Middle East with an agreement to end sanctions against the Russian Federation for what Putin is doing in Ukraine. But if that was Moscow’s goal, it has clearly failed.

Its actions have increasingly infuriated the West, which has stepped up its criticism of what Moscow is doing with its bombing of civilians in Aleppo, threatened to break off all talks on Syrian issues, and even to introduce new economic sanctions against Russia. Most important, the West has refused to make any grand bargain with Putin.

Devastation in the Donbas - the product of Putin's military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. 2015 (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy)

Devastation in the Donbas – the product of Putin’s military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. 2015 (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy)

What is worse for Moscow, experts like Ihor Semivolos, the director of Kyiv’s Center for Near East Research, say, is that Moscow has little choice but to keep fighting despite the increasing costs it is imposing on itself by that policy. “In authoritarian regimes,” Semivolos note, “defeat in war usually very quickly leads to the fall of the regime.”

Moscow is thus caught in a trap of its own making, incapable of winning either on the ground or in diplomacy but equally unwilling to take the risks involved of pulling out entirely. Russian leaders know what happened after Gorbachev pulled out of Afghanistan, and they don’t want the same outcome.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Quartermaster

    The Soviet Union did not fall because Gorbachev left Afghanistan. The problems that brought the Soviet Union down were set during Stalin’s misrule, and Putin’s way of doing things in Russia recalls much of that same stupidity. Putin grew up a Chekist and is mentally limited to the the “solutions’ set by the Stalinist regime that raised him. Since Russia won’t learn from the past, they will simply have the lesson driven home in the most damaging way possible. This time, Russia will end up as a rump confined by the Urals and the countries that were its near abroad on the south and west. Peter The Great’s Russia will cease to exist.

    • Mad Hatter

      And Petersburg will become the swamp it always was.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Peter the Great’s Russia did not cover anywhere near the territory that Dwarfstan currently does, but no matter. The longer Pedo Putolini’s wars continue the greater will be Dwarfstan’s weakening, and the greater its fall. Its economic prospects are dim at best, while its neighbours, apart from Belarus, will slowly but surely outpace it.
      The dwarf simply does not understand what Teng H’siao-ping did when he chucked Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book out: strong economy, strong country, thus proving that he is nothing but a third-rate Chekist thug. Which, of course, anyone with even half a brain already knew.

      • Quartermaster

        As I said in another thread, you can take the boy out of the Cheka, but you can’t take the Cheka out of the boy.

  • zorbatheturk

    Putin + Ass-ad = death and misery squared + evil cubed.

    Impose an immediate no-bombing zone on Syria now and put the sorry Frog-created failed state under UN administration.