Understanding the Putin Doctrine

Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:12am

Steven Lee Myers offers insight into the motivations behind Russia President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Syria.  

“On the night of Dec. 5, 1989, Vladimir V. Putin, then a lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B., watched with alarm as thousands of East Germans in Dresden swarmed the riverside compound of the dreaded secret police, the Stasi… East Germany soon ceased to exist, as did the Soviet Union following the abortive putsch in August 1991, suffering from an affliction that Mr. Putin described as ‘a paralysis of power.’… That diagnosis has been a driving force in his consolidation of political power, and it does much to explain Russia’s forceful intervention last week to bolster the besieged government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.”  

“The specter of mass protest — of mob rule — is one that has haunted Mr. Putin throughout his political life, and that fear lies at the heart of his belief in the primacy of state authority above all else, both at home and abroad… The collapse of the Soviet Union and the chaos that followed darkened Mr. Putin’s opinion of freewheeling democracy — and of the character of his own constituents… What is striking, though perhaps consistent, is how Mr. Putin’s view of public protest has become the basis for an increasingly assertive foreign policy, one aimed at countering what he views as efforts by the United States and others to violate the sovereignty of nations by encouraging political change.”  

“The civil war in Syria, in that view, is merely the latest in a series of messy conflicts that arise from the toppling or weakening of central authority through American aggression… Many have variously interpreted Mr. Putin’s intervention in Syria as a response to domestic pressures caused by an economy faltering with the drop in oil prices and sanctions imposed after Crimea; a desire to change the subject from Ukraine; or a reassertion of Russia’s position in the Middle East. All are perhaps factors, but at the heart of the airstrikes is Mr. Putin’s defense of the principle that the state is all powerful and should be defended against the hordes, especially those encouraged from abroad. It is a warning about Russia, as much as Syria.”