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The murder of The Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara this week was certainly a tragedy. The loss of any life due to murder, sadism or in that case to enable any nefarious motive is hard for any person with humanist impulse to be causally indifferent to. To have it captured on camera and in the era of the smart phone that enables recording only makes it more shocking.
It is why when such cases occur that the perpetrators and enablers of it are always sought out with intentions of obtaining justice. From what has been shared so it appears that the far the gunman motives were linked to Moscow’s role in Syria’s Civil War. On the surface of things it seems that this will only exacerbate a precarious security situation inside Turkey where security personnel have been killed over the past two weeks as Ankara’s War against Kurdish elements as this ongoing conflict only ratchets up in intensity. For Moscow, irrespective of the murder of its diplomat, its support for Damascus will only strengthen while it is to be expected that the posture taken after this will only intensify resulting in a far more formidable and arbitrary use of firepower to atone for this loss. Some have speculated that the murder of Ambassador Karlov could be the pretext for a series of events that could lead to World War III, something akin to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by a Serbian Nationalist.
The world we live in today is far different than the one that existed in the summer and fall of 1914. Despite the strife and conflict prevalent in today’s world , that one of Europe in 1914 was pregnant with total war. Many in European capitals over the summer of 1914 actually wantedwar. The conventional wisdom that proliferated the thinking prior to the outbreak of the hostilities that would initiate World War I were folly in the extreme. Had those leaders and diplomats known what would be the direct result of their actions it is hard to believe that they would engage in the same pattern of policy and belligerence. Today there are a very few, if any at all, in power who really want to set the wheels in motion for anything that could even remotely resemble a World War III. The First World War killed some 10 million. The Second World War killed some 75 million. There is a reason why we have not seen numbers like that since 1945. Who really wantsto go through something like thatagain? But what if this murder is used to galvanize and mobilize popular sentiment inside Russia for a deepening of Moscow’s involvement in Syria? And what if this murder is used to explain to The Russian People that their cause is just and that this loss is their martyr as a result of being the sole leader in the fight against global terrorism? And in the case of Russian interests and recent history there is a pattern that at this point is credible enough to look into this line of thinking.
Few, if anyone, inside or outside of Russia, knew who Vladimir Putin was upon assuming power in 1999. What was known was that he had been in The Soviet KGB, the head of its successor agency The FSB, and Prime Minister to President Boris Yeltsin. Between September 4-16, 1999 a series of apartment bombings took place in Moscow, in Buynaksk and Volgodonsk killing 199 person. This would provide Putin with the pretext for initiating a Second Chechen War. Vowing revenge against those who had murdered innocent civilians, his popularity soared in the aftermath, and in assuming personal direction of the war effort, the benefiting of its military successes, was eventually able to be elevated to the office of The President by a comfortable margin. The mantra would be that Putin had brought security to Russia in the face of the threat of international terrorism and had obtained a victory for Moscow after a humiliating performance in The First Chechen War.
Furthermore he would also be credited with bringing stability to the economy after its catastrophic performance in the 1990’s culminating in the devaluation of, and the resulting crisis of the Rouble. By 2002 the Russian economy was growing rapidly and the momentum of it would make many forget about the apartment bombings or The Second Chechen War. What is known about the apartment bombings is that no terrorist organization, either inside Russia or abroad, ever claimed responsibility for it. What is also known is that Russian human-rights figures such as Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko who had made serious efforts to bring light to these bombings, with all accusing Putin as being the culprit of the apartment bombings, would all be murdered between 2003-2006. On April 17th, 2003 Yushenkov was shot dead near his house in Moscow. Shortly afterwards on July 3rd, 2003 Shchekochikhin died after a mysterious two-week illness which he had somehow obtained just prior to his departure for The United States to meet with FBI investigators. During these two weeks he fall into a coma, had his skin peel off, suffered from the collapse of his internal organs, while losing all of his hair.
His medical documents were subsequently ‘classified’ and his family denied access to the them. Russian authorities took an additional step to the extent of refusing an autopsy, but his relatives would get tissue samples, send them to London, and the findings determined that he died from thallium poisoning. Thallium was also suspected of being the death cause of a former Putin bodyguard, Roman Tsepov.
By all appearances he seems to have been intentionally targeted by radioactive poisoning. On October 7th, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya, who had previously survived one attempt on her life, was shot at point blank range inside the elevator of her apartment building. While on November 23rd, 2006 Litvinenko died of radioactive elements directly associated with polonium-201 poisoning. In short, the civic leaders capable of, and needed to make the apartment bombings a serious issue inside Russia, are no longer among the living.
Today’s Russia is a far different place from when Putin took power in 1999. Putin has till now been the president twice and a prime minister for one time. On October 5thof this year massive civilian nuclear drills were conducted involving some 40 million people and 200,000 emergency personnel held over three days. In the former East Prussia annexed to Russia following World War II, Moscow has moved its vaunted S-400 surface-to-air missile system along with Iskander Missile Batteries posing serious security challenges to Germany, Poland, Sweden and The Baltic States. The regime is keeping the psychological tension of the people high, on a war footing and preparing them for such in the event that war does come. No Nation-State or regime engages in such activities unless it wants its civilian population to feel one in the same of the cause of the country being at war. Since 2008 Russia had been involved in two wars, Georgia and The Ukraine, and is now for all intents and purposes committed to a third, Syria. Although both have not proven costly in terms of loss of life for The Russian Armed Forces the constant state of war does have a price to pay on the domestic front. For the moment there is no real prospect of an opposition being able to credibly mount a challenge to the silovikiand those who run The Kremlin. However there are the ugly and awkward realities that Moscow’ making where these facts are becoming tangible enough for The Russian People to feel.
The sanctions have hit hard due to the fact that the implementation of them are occurring at a time where the price of oil is at crisis levels for Russia. It’s foreign currency reserves are being quickly depleted and should the global economy go into anything like 2008 again it could be catastrophic for Moscow. Furthermore the ongoing war in The Donbass of The Ukraine is static, and there is no real prospect for a breakout anytime soon.
Russian soldiers are dying inside The Ukraine, and are on the ground inside Syria as well. All authoritarian regimes eventually begin to lose the messaging regarding the cost of war when they proffer that it is not sacrificing the flower of its youth for martial glory. When a neighbor goes into another neighbor’s house and sees a framed picture of a son, in full, immaculate military dress, hanging in a central part of the residence, it is obvious to see that this young life was cut short, and is no longer among the living. Neither can an authoritarian regime hide young men of military age, making themselves about on the street, as amputees, or missing multiple limbs. No matter what efforts are made to suppress the truth, it does get out.
In Syria what really are Moscow’s objectives? Does anyone believe that the Syrian War will simply be over with the fall of Alleppo or Raqqa? That people on the ground fighting against Damascus, Moscow and Tehran will simply pick up their kit, go home with the fall of these two cities and hope that they have better fortunes next time?
So what does it all mean? The test of any intelligence operation is not what happens while it is ongoing, but who benefits from the results of it following its conclusion.
If we see the assassination of Ambassador Karlov used as a pretext for a new chapter for the Russian involvement inside Syria, or if Putin were to use it as a means of mobilizing support among the Russian People for a deepening of Russian activities inside Syria then we need to begin to ask who really murdered Ambassador Karlov, what has happened since his death, and who has benefited from it. David Satter who wrote a piece in National Review titled “The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Act of Terror That Brought Putin to Power.” He states the following regarding the apartment bombings:
“The greatest barrier to accepting the evidence that point to the FSB as the perpetrator of
the bombings is sheer reluctance to believe that such a thing could be possible. By any
standard, murdering hundreds of innocent and randomly chosen fellow citizens in order
to hold on to power is an example of cynicism that cannot be comprehended in a normal
human context. But it is fully consistent with the communist inheritance of Russia and
with the kind of country that Russia has become.”
So in this light what is one life worth when applied to a mentality like this? Look at the evidence that is available for all to see. The apartment bombings, again, never had any terrorist organization either inside or outside Russia claim responsibility for it. Terrorists like to tell you if they did something. It is the one time that they can more often than not be believed. Who benefitted from the bombings? Putin, and his regime. Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin once said:
“The loss of one life is a tragedy. A million is just a statistic.”
Putin in all probability would not disagree with it, but let us look at what has happened on his orders and military deployments. What is Aleppo to him or a Russian pilot? What does Moscow, Tehran or Damascus really care about those civilians that are currently being ‘allowed’ to leave their homes to go to goodness knows where? We will see what happens in the aftermath of Ankara. But as events unfold if The Admiral Kuznetsov begins operations with a ramped up intensity of the bombing inside Syria, along with a renewing of cruise missile strikes from The Caspian Sea, while more basing rights inside Iran are allocated for Russian Bombers, and a message for domestic audience to the effect that “You see weare the leaders in the world in the fight against global terrorism and this is ourmartyr! Our cause is just, and his life was not in vain!Therefore onwards, death to our foes, and the coalition that wehave put together is on the right side of history!” If this is the result then instead of 199 lives and multiple apartment bombings, we can perhaps ask if Moscow instead took the life of one instead as the pretext and legitimization for another military engagement.
Writer and Political analyst *
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