Muscat, Oman – Putin is popular in Russia because he is a tough guy. He is being sucked into Syria because he is not smart enough to manage his emotions. Stalin is becoming more popular in Russia. Russians approved of Putins annexation of the Ukraine. But public opinion is fickle.

When the times get tougher in 2016 Russians will resent the austerity. Putin has asked a political ally to produce an alternative budget based on the assumption that Russia will not gain access to foreign capital markets. It calls for extreme austerity. The problem is that it does not deliver anything in return. Russia’s military equipment is old. Its oil producing infrastructure is decaying. Putin has turned Russia into a den of thieves. Russia is crippling itself and convincing its enemies to invest more in military equipment and alternate sources of energy. For Putin to remain popular he must be able to deliver some glory. He has budgeted for a limited four month air campaign in Syria. We are entering the third month and the Assad regime has not regained much lost territory. The west is more angry with Putin now than it was. China is not inclined to support Russia financially -China is facing an economic slowdown of its own…

Russia has been hoping to convince Europe and the US to ease sanctions placed on Russia as a consequence of its annexation of Crimea. Russia’s actions in Syria were designed to protect Assad and to gain leverage over the US. Putin’s strategy is failing. The real reason that the Turks shot down the Russian fighter was because the Russians have been bombing ethnic Turks in Syria who oppose Assad. Putin is reminding everyone that he is a bully and Europeans are not inclined to forgive him for his adventures in the Ukraine. Europeans do not see Russia as being in a position to end the Syrian civil war and Russia is demanding that Assad remain in power. The new Polish government is simply going to make it harder for European members of NATO to make concessions to the Russians….

A day after the Russian warplane was shot down, Russia said it was deploying the country’s most advanced surface-to-air missile system — the S400 Triumf, or “SA-21 Growler” as it is referred to by NATO countries — to Syria.

This is definitely a case of escalation and it might put US aircraft at risk. The US will have to trust that the Russians will not use these missiles. The US will deploy more electronic counter measure technology to the theatre hoping that US technology can jam the sophisticated guidance systems in these S400s. Both sides (US and Russia) may engage in testing the missile systems capabilities. The Russians will attempt to gain “a (radar) lock” on US aircraft and US aircraft will try to prevent the Russian radar from gaining a lock. Both US and Turkish aircraft are flying out of the same base at Incirlik which is close to the Syrian border. The Russians may be temped to lock onto anything that takes off from Incirlik.

Russia is planning to deploy its most advanced Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) to Syria. These SAMs are also capable of being used as medium range ballistic missiles that can hit Israel. Russia threatened to give such missile systems to Syria if the US were to take action in response to the nerve gas attacks. Israel made it very clear that it would not tolerate these missiles in Syria. Netanyahu promised to attack and destroy them. The missiles were being given to the Syrians. However, at the time it was also clear that Russians would be operating the missiles. We must await an Israeli response to this announcement.

Russia has broken. Sanctions against Russia make it impossible for Russia to borrow money so it can’t run a deficit. That means when the cash runs out services will be cut. The US is not broke. It can borrow money to run a deficit. It can borrow US dollars so it is not exposed to currency risk, need to understand the difference between having access to credit and not having access to credit.

It is misleading to refer to Russia as a superpower. It is a nuclear power. Most of the military equipment it has is left over from the Soviet era. It has some new fighters and bombers that are advanced but it doesn’t have very many of them. It can’t afford to make them. Russia cannot afford to lose Turkey as a customer for natural gas.

Russia has been supporting the Assad regimes offensive against rebels that include some groups that are supported by Turkey, however the offensive has bogged down. None of its objectives have been achieved. The anti-Assad rebels have proven to be quite resilient so I think it is unfair to say that Russia has destroyed a lot of Turkish military infrastructure in Syria. Turkey doesn’t have much military infrastructure in Syria other than rebel groups that it funds. Those rebel groups do not really constitute a Turkish military infrastructure.

Turkey was tolerating Daesh but now it isn’t. The US, the Kurds, Iran, & Iraq are the ones fighting Daesh. Daesh is losing battles and it is losing territory. There is a black market in Turkey for Syrian oil products that is being supplied by Daesh but Daesh that capacity is being eroded. For one thing Daesh used to supply Turkey with refined products like diesel. Daesh is losing its capacity to refine oil.

China is also investing heavily in the old “silk road” building infrastructure like railroads and ports to become the major trading partner of the former Soviet provinces in central Asia. These resource rich regions are moving from the Russian sphere to the Chinese sphere and this will only accelerate. China does not have a large nuclear arsenal but it has a much larger annual defense budget than Russia has. China will become a threat to Russia. Russia needs to graduate from being a den of thieves to being a modern liberal economy if it wants to prosper. Putin stands squarely in the way of modernization.

All he is doing in Syria is prolonging the suffering. Russia cannot provide enough support to Assad to propel him to victory. Russia has lots of soldiers but Putin knows that Russians do not want Russian soldiers dying in combat in Syria. Putin also knows that he cannot afford to support a large expeditionary force. US TOW missiles are destroying Assad’s Russian made armoured vehicles on the ground at a great rate.

If Putin thinks he is making any friends in the west he is quite mistaken. He continues to face sanctions imposed by Europe and the US and his military is bogged down in Syria.

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