On Putin’s, “To forgive the terrorists is up to God, to send them to him is up to me”.
By Sean Francis Han
This is probably the greatest Public Relations (PR) copywriting magnum opus I’ve seen in the past decade.
Because of how absolutely calculated, affective, and untrue it is. Putin has little to no interest in eradicating ISIS. ISIS will never go on a full out offensive against Russia (unless provoked, which we saw in their latest attack on a Russian aircraft).
Russia doesn’t fit into ISIS’s classification of “Western Imperialism” because of their repressive stance on LGBT rights and free speech. Also, a good part of ISIS’s impressive $3 million/day revenue comes from smuggling drugs and arms into – you guessed it – Russia.
So why then does it seem like Putin is hellbent on wiping ISIS off the face of the earth? 2 reasons.
Firstly, it detracts from what’s really going on in Syria: a proxy war between half of the U.S (half because the C.I.A initially tried, unsuccessfully, funding training programs for Syrian rebels and is now all but pulling out of Syria) and Russia. Putin, in opposition to the U.S which is (partially) in support of the Syrian rebels, is funding known dictator, despot, and chemical weapons aficionado, Assad.
Putin has also been making a big show of bombing ISIS, but till now have only been successful in hitting Aleppo and Idlib, neither of which are ISIS strongholds. Some analysts have therefore speculated that Putin is putting on a brilliant PR show; he says he’s bombing ISIS, instead bombs the Syrian Rebels and the Kurds who are just slightly off known ISIS strongholds, and then sits back with a Vodka as the whole world looks in awe at how strong this Russian bear of a man is.
Secondly, it makes Russia look good internationally and helps cover up how weak Russia’s military forces really are. In 2014, Russia spent less that a sixth of what the U.S spent on defence. Watchdog groups have also noted that Russia’s military technology is greatly outdated. Military bases outside of Russia have also been mocked as being “more of a railway than a military base”, and the number of bases is getting smaller.
So when Russian expends 25 of its best aircraft and “pounds ISIS”, they’re trying to tell other countries that they’re stronger than they really are. This (as you may have learnt in social studies) is a good method of deterrence. If states, or the people of other countries view Russia as big and strong militarily, they are less likely to face hostility from other countries.
Russia also wants to look good internationally to cover up its human rights violations. When an activist hold up Russia’s god awful level of press freedom (which is only 30 spots above North Korea), or its never-getting-better state of women’s rights, the state can easily turn around and say “but we’re fighting ISIS! We’re good humane people!”
The effectiveness of this PR campaign hasn’t just created results in the mindsets of netizens, it’s nabbed them a military ally in France, which has always been a strong ally of the U.S. Russia basically took advantage of France’s post-Paris Attacks state of anger and confusion and began to pull one of the U.S’s long time allies closer to them.
Putin’s PR campaign manager has effectively managed to take a human rights abuser (let’s not forget the annexation of Crimea just a year ago), who also funds a dictator/mass murderer in Syria with a declining military and economy and turned him into a Russian superhero for the world to gaze at with admiration. There have now been hundreds of thousands of posts from Facebook users proclaiming that Putin’s (seemingly) hardline stance on ISIS is to be admired.
But what these netizens don’t understand is that they’re helping a terrible human being, get away with doing terrible things.