There has been a concerted effort in recent days by the Kremlin to promote Russia’s perceived newfound military might. This agenda is part and parcel of Moscow’s hybrid warfare that has proven successful in Ukraine and now in the Middle East.
The effort is a spin-off of President Reagan’s “peace through strength” — the idea being that, if you are strong enough, no one else would dare start a conflict with you for fear of the consequences. While the Obama administration has been busy destroying the credibility of the United States on the geopolitical stage, credibility that took decades to rebuild after Vietnam and President Carter, Russia has rebuilt its own image in the eyes of the world, a successful campaign with serious ramifications.
The latest shoe to fall is none other than the protector of NATO’s southern flank, Turkey. Russia and the former Ottoman Empire have been geopolitical adversaries for centuries, but relations have warmed over the last couple of decades as Turkey coveted Russian tourism rubles and joint hydrocarbon infrastructure projects. However, the good relations were damaged as Russia landed an expeditionary force in Syria to support the Assad regime. Things turned downright frosty late last year when Turkey fired on a Russian jet and the pilot was killed by rebels as he floated down in his parachute. Mr. Putin called the shootdown a “stab in the back.” He immediately applied economic pressure to Turkey where it hurt, sanctioning Turkish food imports and cutting off Russian tourist packages to Turkey.
This got Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attention. The recent coup attempt in Istanbul, real or fabricated, and multiple terrorist attacks on Turkish soil seem to have pushed Mr. Erdogan into Mr. Putin’s corner. Russia and Turkey Thursday announced plans to join forces in Syria in fighting the Islamic State. Moscow has long wanted the West to join its fight against the Islamic State as it removes opposition to Russian forces in the Syrian theater. Turkey and Russia also announced plans to move forward on the Turkstream pipeline that will undercut the leverage Ukraine enjoys over delivering natural gas to the rest of Europe.
Western governments are nervous as Mr. Erdogan moves closer to Russia. They should be. The Turkish leader seems to have made a conscious decision to put pressure on the EU and NATO to bolster his negotiating stance with Western Europe over the migrant crisis. The issue has been a bone of contention and Turkey has hinted broadly that it will not live up to the agreements made with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept a certain number of refugees. The sight of Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish delegation shaking hands in Moscow must cause serious consternation in Washington and Brussels.
Behind closed doors, Mr. Putin and the Kremlin chiefs must be jumping for joy, having successfully driven a wedge between one of NATO’s strongest militaries and the rest of the alliance. Mr. Erdogan has made public his displeasure at the United States refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based imam Mr. Erdogan considers responsible for last month’s failed coup attempt.
Perceptions matter. The narrative Moscow wants the world to embrace is that NATO is collapsing in the face of Russian strength, determination and Mr. Putin’s leadership. Unfortunately for the Western alliance, the perception is true. I find it truly remarkable that the Russian president is projecting power around the world while the United States and Western Europe embrace a cultural Marxism that is literally destroying what made them great in the first place. For a former KGB officer to be taking advantage of the West’s folly is truly ironic.
Mr. Putin is bent on ending the sanctions on Russia over Crimea, solidifying Russia’s role as a major player in the Middle East and undermining Western unity. He seems to be confident enough to threaten military operations against Ukraine for “incursions” into Crimea. To borrow a phrase from Charlie Sheen: “Winning!”
Originally posted at the Washington Times