Putin is deliberately targeting hospitals in Syria, to terrorise civilians into leaving their homes, and to add to the refugee stream that is threatening to buckle the European Union. Fractures in the EU will reassure Putin that Russia’s former vassal states are less likely to drift to the west.
Ask Medecins sans Frontieres
It’s not that Putin had the clairvoyance to see all this from years back, but the cards are certainly falling in his favour – for now. Seizing eastern Ukraine not only strengthened Russia’s energy hand and stopped Ukraine sliding smoothly into the EU, but Crimea’s naval facilities gave Putin much more reach into the Med and Syria.
And now these strikes are creating the gravest refugee crisis in Turkey – whom Putin loathes – and only a slightly lesser emergency in the EU. Putin can see the cracks in the western alliance ranged along his borders, and he’s only biding his time before he has a go in the Baltic States, Moldova and so on.
And Putin is wooing the Kurds. The one group in the region that Washington could count on may be their go-to guys no longer. Putin is taking advantage of the fact that the Kurds hate Turkey even more than he does, and seeks to prise them away from the US camp, giving him a strong grip on the Syrian-Turkish border and the potential to develop Russian bases here.
Proving explicit Russian intent to bomb hospitals is hard without a transcript of a commander’s orders, but here’s Médecins Sans Frontières:
A fundamental difference of focus in the way America and Russia have played the Mid East is the divide between a consciously moral view of the world, and the realpolitik view. Obama’s a nice guy, but he and Washington have allowed a warmly fuzzy view of how the world should work to befuddle their every policy in the region. Putin doesn’t make mistakes like this – morality be damned, he has seen much more clearly that the Assads, Saddams and Gaddafis stand between the region and the atomised slaughter that would fill their vacated space. In a way, the US needs a Kissinger right now. But Putin could probably see Kissinger, and raise him.
I have no beef about the EU – very boring, I know, I see pros and cons about the whole project. I’m more interested in how the tensions within the EU play in respect to Putin and the Mid East. Turkey are no saints in the affair, and moreover Putin didn’t clairvoyantly plan all this years ago – but yes, I think Putin is happily conscious of the fact that the refugee tide is fracturing the EU/NATO alliance that lines his western borders, and of whom he is understandably filled with anxiety and loathing.