What Happens If Russia Loses in Syria?

It's worth considering a subject that's seldom discussed here, though it should be. What if Russia's intervention in Syria — its version of the American way of war (air power and more air power) — proves to be somewhere between quagmirish and disastrous? Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic gives the subject some thought. Here's the end of the resulting piece. TomDispatch

President Putin

“In other words, Putin’s war may very well fail. But if it does, will he make concessions and abandon his ally? If the Russian president acts rationally, he should cut his losses. Putin, however, may not act rationally. When I researched my book on military disaster, The Right Way to Lose a War, I was struck by how poorly governments tend to handle battlefield reversals. From the United States in Vietnam to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leaders often respond to defeat with disastrous decisions that only worsen their plight. Rather than coolly looking for a way out of the predicament, they rage against the dying of the light.”Part of the problem is what psychologists call “loss aversion.” Losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good—whether in a tennis match or a war. The idea of accepting even a small loss can seem intolerable, and people are tempted to risk greater losses for a shot at the win. The gambler who drops 20 bucks in a casino doesn’t walk away; he doubles his bets. In a similar vein, the president who loses 1,000 soldiers in Vietnam doesn’t end the war; he sends half a million Americans into the mire.

Putin has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force.

“It’s hard to imagine Putin accepting defeat. He has cultivated an image as the father of the Russian people, who is restoring the country as a world power. If Assad’s regime falls, Russia could lose its only military installation outside the former U.S.S.R.—the naval base in Tartus, Syria. Therefore, if the war effort collapses, Putin may want to salvage something from the wreckage, potentially moving the conflict into a dangerous new phase. He could intensify Russian air strikes or deploy “little green men”—as the Russian soldiers serving unofficially in eastern Ukraine were called. Once Russian troops start dying in Syria, all bets are off.”Putin, moreover, has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force. In 2008, the Russian military intervened in Georgia to punish pro-Western Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and protect the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Six years later, in 2014, Putin aided Ukrainian rebels and annexed Crimea following the toppling of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In late 2015, with Assad’s forces reeling, Putin once again intervened to stabilize a client regime.”And Putin has already raised the prospect of further military escalation, saying that Russia is using “far from everything we are capable of” in Syria and that “We also have other things as well and will use them if necessary.”

“What’s the solution? If Russia’s defeat could trigger hazardous escalation, this doesn’t mean a Russian victory is preferable. After all, if Assad somehow assumed a winning position, why would he negotiate a compromise peace that recognized the interests of all Syrian groups? Instead, the optimal opportunity for a peace deal may be a situation in which Putin believes a decisive triumph is not possible, but he can still save face by spinning the outcome as a success. In other words, he needs a story to tell the Russian people about the positive results of the mission. This narrative doesn’t need to be true, but it does need to havetruthiness, or a seeming plausibility. And so, to get Putin out of Syria, the United States might need to play along by avoiding boastful claims of a major Russian debacle. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell, U.S. President George H.W. Bush deliberately refused to declare the development a win—to avoid complicating the life of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Putin needs a victory speech. And Washington may have to help him write it.” More

 

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully?

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on whether the West’s military alliance has reignited the Cold War.

“We are pretty close to a new Cold War because of Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine,” says former Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen who led the alliance from 2009 to 2014.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and former NATO chief, on the West’s military alliance’s role in Eastern Europe and the so-called War on Terror.

We examine his record since assuming office in 2001, his role in the European support for the Iraq War and ask whether his NATO policies since 2009 have backfired.

Is it the West, or Putin who calls the shots in Ukraine? Has NATO reignited the Cold War? Did it create a bigger problem in Libya? And did it botch its mission in Afghanistan?

Joining this discussion are:

• Richard Sakwa, Russia and European politics professor and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, from the University of Kent

• Alexander Nekrassov, a political commentator and former adviser to the Kremlin

• Ian Bond, a former British diplomat and director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully? with Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on April 17 at 2000GMT and will be repeated on April 18 at 1200GMT; April 19 at 0100GMT; and April 20 at 0600GMT.

Follow us on: https://www.facebook.com/AJHeadToHead and @AJheadtohead

 

 

 

The West’s Repeated Mistakes Over Eastern Europe

Something very similar is happening now in the countries east of the European Union and west of Russia. As the people of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement showed in January 2014 on Kiev’s Independence Square, they were not going to accept a post–Cold War status quo in which Russia sets the agenda. They wanted to choose their own political path.

It seems that history is repeating itself. This time round, NATO is not prepared to help the countries in Europe’s East, while the EU is divided and weak over how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea in March.

During a press conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on September 4 at the NATO summit in Wales, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tried to put the best spin on NATO help to Ukraine. Since NATO is not prepared even to consider the idea of Ukraine one day becoming a member of the organization, Rasmussen—and indeed Poroshenko—didn’t mention the “m-word.”

“It is for the Ukrainian people to decide . . . [their] future relationship with NATO,” the secretary general said—as if Putin will allow that to happen.

Rasmussen did say that NATO allies had pledged to provide support to help Ukraine improve its own security. “Our support is concrete and tangible. . . . Ukraine has stood by NATO. Now in these difficult times, NATO stands by Ukraine.”

Rasmussen explained how the allies had established “a comprehensive and tailored package of measures” to help Ukraine. The focus of NATO support would be on four areas: rehabilitation for injured troops, cyberdefense, logistics, and command and control and communications. “And allies will assist Ukraine with around €15 million [$19 million] through NATO,” Rasmussen added. NATO would not be supplying weapons. But that won’t stop individual countries from doing so.

Above all, the NATO chief insisted that an independent, sovereign, and stable Ukraine firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law was key to Euro-Atlantic security. “We stand united in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Actually, the West is only rhetorically united over Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Western nations have no real intentions of matching that statement with deeds to allow Ukraine to regain territory in eastern Ukraine that has been taken over by rebels backed by Russian troops and tanks—let alone Crimea.

As for the EU, it is prepared to impose more sanctions on Russia—but with many misgivings and criticisms from several member states, especially Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. That is despite the fact that until twenty-five years ago, these countries were under the Soviet yoke.

The measures undertaken by NATO and the EU are insufficient because they perpetuate the new rules of the game that Putin is writing across Eastern Europe. And because the West’s responses give him no reason to desist, at least for the moment, Western countries are repeating the mistakes they made when Eastern European civil society reared its head during the Communist era. The West is not prepared to stand up to Putin’s Russia.

Instead, willy-nilly, the West is allowing a new cordon sanitaire of countries to take hold between Russia and the EU. But if Putin and European leaders believe that this buffer zone is going to represent a new, stable “post-post–Cold War” status quo, they are seriously mistaken.

The reason is that civil society across these countries, from Belarus to Armenia, will not accept these new demarcation lines on a permanent basis. Just as Poles challenged their country’s Communist regime in 1980, the same will happen across the states in Europe’s East.

That has already happened in Ukraine. And despite the war in eastern Ukraine and the continuing influence of the country’s oligarchs, the supporters of the Euromaidan are not prepared to let this revolution fail. They are not naive enough to believe that the EU and NATO will come to their rescue. Instead, against all the odds, they will continue to struggle for their freedom to choose their own political path. More