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Between war and peace: NATO, Russia, and the dumpster fire in Syria

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image courtesy of nbcnews.com

First let us remember our fallen brothers. One Russian airman (possibly two) and one marine are dead. Let’s be quiet for a moment and think about that. For their families, none of this will ever make sense. None of this will ever be justified. This is what war is, families torn apart by violence. The people of Russia have courageously stood up for our shared values, truth, reason, love, and peace, and now their sons are dead. They will not be returning home as their families prayed that they would. Let us honor their spirit and remember their unflinching devotion to Russia and to our collective safety as global citizens.

The Russian military command sees this conflict very differently than we see it in the West. They share our concern regarding global terror. They have been attacked from the shadows by psychopathic cowards just as we have. They understand that a bunch of deposed Iraqi power junkies are using misinformation to lure Muslim youth into a demented suicide pact. They understand that the misinformation itself is crowdsourced, has been propagated for decades by irresponsible hatemongers, just as racist propaganda has been disseminated worldwide throughout history and continues to fester in the shadows.

However, the greatest threat to Russian national security, in their eyes, is NATO. Imagine if the vast majority of militarily advanced countries in the world were united in a mutual defense treaty from which your country was explicitly excluded. The outlook is grim. We in the West cannot understand why anyone would back Assad, because we think of him in the same category as Polpot or Koni, warlords, power junkies who kill innocent people. He’s certainly killed enough of his own people that we would be foolish to believe he won’t do it again. He belongs on the wall of shame in the Museum of Human and Civil Rights in Atlanta. We cannot stand by our values and permit Assad to continue brutalizing and murdering Syrians. He’s got to go.

This is problematic for the Russian military command, because Syria is a buffer state between NATO nation Turkey and Russia herself. Without a strong, inviolate, non-NATO Syria, the massive anti-Russia conspiracy (their viewpoint) is basically standing on their front porch. What we see as a land grab in Ukraine is, well, a land grab, but it’s also securing a bulwark against Western expansionism in treaty form. The tide was turning against Yanukovich and they made their move before NATO did. To invade non-NATO Ukraine was less dangerous in their calculus than to allow Ukraine to join NATO. This is what Chancellor Merkel meant when she said “They want Ukraine more than we do.”

This partially explains why the Russian SU-24 was flying inside Turkish airspace. Russia’s mission in Syria is not just against the deposed Iraqi power junkies commanding Daesh, but against anyone who is fighting against Assad. That includes the US-backed moderate rebels, the Kurds, and NATO nations like Turkey and France. Russia is very interested in keeping NATO out of Syria. Their strategy of violating NATO airspace, which they did over 400 times in 2014, is designed to keep NATO in a defensive posture. If we’re defending Turkey then we’re not moving forward into Syria.

The other part of the explanation is that the Russian military command have their own expansionist designs. Look at a map of the old Soviet Union. That’s a strong Russia in President Putin’s mind. That’s the Russia he would like to leave to his successor, everything which falls under Russia’s “sphere of influence,” as he says. When Daesh lays out their vision for a global Islamic empire under one supreme Caliph, it’s a fantasy, as much as if a group of extremist Christians demanded a return to feudalism in Europe. When Russia strategizes reconstructing the old Soviet bloc, it’s a plausible scenario.

This is why we still need NATO. We the people of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, and Croatia believe that all people are born free with an inherent right to self-governance. No one has a right to govern except when that right has been granted by the governed in free and fair elections. We forged a mutual defense treaty because we know that sometimes governments will risk war rather than sacrifice any material part of their advantage. We are prepared for that eventuality.

I am sad tonight for the Russian warriors, for their families, for their countrymen. I question the discenment of the Russian military command, which could not fail to accurately assess the danger of challenging the NATO alliance after a special meeting was called to warn that further violations of Turkish airspace would be met with force, and which chose to do so anyway. I am sad that the Kremlin has indicated that “volunteer” soldiers will be deployed to Syria. Most of all I question the wisdom of sacrificing Russian lives for a doomed man who has no right to rule. President Putin once said that he “will not go to war with anyone over Syria.” Let us hope he was telling the truth.

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