Is Vladimir Putin Trying to Teach the West a Lesson in Syria?
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Last week, after Russian planes bombed antigovernment forces near the Syrian town of Homs, a senior American official complained to me: “What Russia is doing in Syria is not an effort to fight the Islamic State; it is not old-fashioned realpolitik. It is not even a cynical attempt to make us forget about Ukraine. Putin simply wants to hurt us.”
This notion of Russia as a “spoiling power” is a popular sentiment today in Washington. But what does this spoiling power actually want? Is Russia in Syria simply for the sport of watching a humiliated President Obama? Is damaging the value of American power the only purpose of Russia’s “spoiling”?
It’s more accurate to say that the Kremlin is in Syria for pedagogical reasons: It wants to teach Americans a lesson, and a valuable one. It wants to show that America should either be prepared to intervene in any civil war that follows a troubled revolution inspired by its lofty rhetoric, or it should quit goading people to revolt. “Do you realize, what you have done?” was the most memorable line of President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly.