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Friday, February 23, 2018

As Moscow has become a hostage of Palmyra

In Voronezh last farewell of the deceased in Syria, the Russian soldier Anton Erygin. His tragic death is another sobering reminder: even after the withdrawal of the main part of our military contingent from this blazing in the flame of civil war in the country Russia from Syria are gone. We still are full participants and fully hostage to the bloody Syrian drama.

Killed in Syria, the Russian soldier Anton Erygin. Photo from social networks

I will say more: it may well be that Russia’s actions in Syria in early may, once again dramatically increased our dependence on the development of the situation in that state.

In the middle of this week on the site of the largest American news Agency Associated Press has reported as follows: “the Militants of the Islamic state (is banned in Russia – “MK”) has moved towards the Central Syrian Palmyra city, threatening to besiege this recently liberated by government forces, the location of ancient monuments… Friendly LIH media and other activists said the militants seized a strategically located area… in less than 60 miles from Palmyra. For the government forces this capture signifies the emergence of a threat of cutting supply channels”.

I won’t beat around the Bush. If I had read a similar message in, say, April 13, it wouldn’t cause me such great anxiety. Such is the specificity of the civil war in Syria: here all is vague, all in fragments. Areas of the city and constantly pass from hand to hand. Of course, Palmyra is a place absolutely unique, a place of power, a place where you can particularly acute and piercing feel connected with long ago sunk into oblivion times. But, despite this status of Palmyra, in April, I would have considered the further fate of this city is a problem primarily of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But this message came in mid-may. And this dramatically changed its meaning and value. Now I can’t describe the fate of Palmyra as “the problem of Assad.” Now the fate of Palmyra is, to my great regret, already our Russian problem. The problem, which is absolutely impossible to dismiss. The problem, which depends on our prestige and international reputation.

What event in just one month so radically changed the role of Palmyra in the “world history”? The answer to this question is known to everyone who follows the news last may 5 at the amphitheater of Palmyra concert of Russian classical music, of which via teleconference greeted personally by Vladimir Putin.

British foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, I remember, called this event a “bad taste”. But for some reason I think: when you say these required positions of the word – an extremely hostile attitude towards Russia for any reason or even no reason is now official British policy, even Hammond himself was fully aware of their emptiness, pallor and weakness. Concert in Palmyra had become extremely powerful political symbol, a kind of message of Russia to the civilized world, proof that Putin’s policy in Syria is working.

But you know what is the problem – if it is, of course, the problem is powerful political symbol? With such characters it is impossible just to show off and to forget. For such characters it is necessary to respond and, if necessary, to fight – even if you do not particularly want to. Staging a concert in Palmyra, Russia has made itself responsible for the fate of this city in the near future. And this fact, alas, nothing can be done.

If the rebels re-take Palmyra, worldwide it will be perceived as a symbolic defeat or even the humiliation of Russia. We will look funny. We are going to look like an empty show-off. Given that the main goal of Russia’s actions in Syria is to restore our proper influence in international Affairs, such an outcome is completely unacceptable.

I am sure that Vladimir Putin understands this and, despite the limitations of our resources in Syria will do everything possible and impossible that nothing happened. The real question of the day is so not even in the fate of Palmyra. The real question of the day, from my point of view, is: shouldn’t Russia be more careful in terms of powerful symbolic actions in Syria?

Moscow, of course, in no way should abandon their political positions in Syria. But we need a certain distancing from what is happening in Syria and the official authorities of this country. The war in Syria should not become our own war.

Instead, we have a paradoxical situation: the fate of one specifically Syrian city is now official for Moscow, at least, is no less important than to Damascus. Me such a turn of events confuses and perplexes.

This, of course, does not imply that Russia should not hold a concert in Palmyra. Justified and calculated risk is an integral part of the political craft. This implies something quite different – something with which I began this material. “The Syrian Chapter of modern Russian history is still too early to consider closed. We can expect surprises of all sorts – both pleasant and very unpleasant. But in the meantime let’s wish durability Palmyra and its defenders. Don’t know whether they have somewhere to retreat. But behind them – just Moscow.

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