October 13, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 7131

Influential Russian Blogger El-Murid: Russia's War In Syria Is 'One Of Putin's Most Dangerous Gambles'

October 13, 2017
Russia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 7131

Influential St. Petersburg blogger and political analyst Anatoly Nesmeyan, known as El-Murid, has been among the critics of Moscow's military involvement in Syria since Russia launched its military campaign on September 30, 2017.[1] In an article marking the second anniversary of the Russian campaign in Syria, Nesmeyan raises his objections to the war, which he refers to as "one of Putin's most dangerous gambles."[2]

According to Nesmeyan, today's Russia is "a petty imperialist predator," so that the war in Syria is being waged not in its interests, but in the interests of groups and clans close to power. He believes that the Russian establishment is leading the country towards a useless war that will not bring "victory" because the objectives are not clearly set. He also expresses his fear that Russian soldiers will pay with their own blood, and that Russia will subsequently be thrown out of Syria like a "kicked dog." He adds: "Russia has experience in waging such wars, but no experience in retaining the results. Or, rather, its experience is negative. Fighting for your own land is one thing. Fighting for somebody else's is totally different. We don't have the tradition of privateers and 'gentlemen of the road," as our Western partners [do], so trying to imitate them in this sphere, and in a degradation trend at that, is very naïve."

Below are excerpts of Nesmeyan's article:[3]

Anatoly Nesmeyan (Source:

"This is the time for men" (Source:

"There Is Nobody To Evaluate The Consequences Of The Adopted Decisions"

"Today [September 30, 2017] is the second anniversary of one of Putin's most dangerous gambles, and undoubtedly one most long-term in consequences: the Syrian War. From day one, I have made no secret of my extremely negative opinion about this scheme, and have repeatedly explained why. I think that no argument to the contrary has surfaced over the past two years.

"As for my objections to the war, there are three of them. They have remained valid to this day.

"Objection number one: Chronic delay in decision making and reacting to events (to say nothing of preventing them) brought about the situation when the mutiny against Assad's regime, which could have been crushed in 2011, 2012, or even in early 2013, exhausted Syria's public resources, and passed into a fundamentally different state since mid-2013. After the Islamic State came to Syria in 2013 and seized Raqqa, the conflict acquired a decidedly religious character. Assad, following the disintegration of the Syrian army, was forced to turn for external, foreign help and support; he found it in the form of Shi'ite groups, both regular and irregular, primarily Hezbollah and the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), which shifted the character of the conflict firmly into the sphere of confrontation between different sects and religious denominations.

"The U.S.S.R. supported Assad's regime for ideological and geostrategic reasons. With all its skeptical and neutral attitude towards third world countries, national liberation movements and countries with secular national social projects, it viewed them as natural allies in the question of standoff with the NATO-U.S. bloc. Russia does not have its own development project, and therefore cannot channel it outside itself (it is impossible to promote what does not exist). This, by the way, is the reason why the so-called Russian spring failed: Russia has nothing to offer to inhabitants of Ukraine. They have the same things – the same bandits, thieves and mobsters, unparalleled social genocide and other horrors. Why would they need the same, only foreign?

"Supporting Assad for ideological and geopolitical reasons is out of the question. They simply do not exist. And that is why the declared objective – preservation of Syria's territorial integrity – is unattainable. There is a fight in Syria between several possible projects of its future configuration. We have nothing to offer or support – Assad's secular project is dead. Assad's personal power can be supported for a while by foreign bayonets, but for a stable government, he needs a consensus that will be supported (or grudgingly agreed with) by the majority of the population. There is no such project. Therefore, the problem of territorial integrity in this context is insolvable.

"Objection number two is connected to a total lack of understanding of processes in the Middle East by Russia's top brass. Putin, possessing the primitive thinking of a former parish gendarme with the experience of watching over informers, is incapable of appreciating the scale of what's happening in the region (his official biography notwithstanding, he was never a spy. His job was to inform and to supervise informers. Not the noblest of professions, but after all, somebody has to do it). As a result of hollowing-out of the professional constituent in the leadership itself and its support, not only have the Russian leaders become a group of primitive and ignorant people, but they have practically nobody to provide any objective information to on what's happening in every sphere of entities managed by them – professionals have been entirely replaced by sycophants. Loyal ones, as they say now.

"Lack of understanding and ignorance are the reason why, instead of systemic solutions, spur-of-the-moment and primitive decisions – no, not even decisions, steps – are taken. Infantile curiosity: what happens if we jab our stick here? Or here? There is nobody to evaluate the consequences of the adopted decisions. And it is not only true with Syria. Such is the case in any issue.

"Making decisions about a war on this level is pure suicide and a most reckless folly.

"Objection number three boils down to the fact that in the territory of Syria and Iraq, there is a general conflict (although it has certain distinguishing features), with almost a million (sometimes over a million) people taking part in it on all sides. That is, according to existing classification, it is mid-intensity to high-intensity conflict. In order to effect a turnaround, one needs to introduce a new resource into the conflict that would be compatible in order of magnitude with those already participating in it. Bringing in an air regiment and a ground brigade under the guise of logistical support can clearly have no decisive influence. Taking into account the catastrophic state of the Syrian army, any talks about the aid that the Russian troops will provide the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) in its offensive action are a lie. There is nobody to be on the offensive.

"When There Are No Objectives, There Are No Criteria For Victory"

"In fact, what we have seen over these two years is that Syrians are mostly used for photo ops. Real war on Assad's side has been waged by mercenaries, foreigners, and bandit gangs. One of these gangs is directly accused today of being involved in the death of our general near Deir ez-Zor. All this was known and clear two years ago. Nothing has changed.

"When there are no objectives, there are no criteria for victory. And so, a war becomes a process. It may have variable intensity but it cannot end. It is useless to explain something to people raised by the internet, a picture is more important to them than content. Percentages of formal possession of territories and images of explosions, corpses and armor marching off into the distance obstruct reality. And reality is as follows: even the territories that are formally controlled are not safe. Only yesterday [September 29, 2017], militants appeared suddenly and captured Qaryatayn [a town in central Syria, located southeast of Homs], which is at a distance of 120 km from the assumed front line. No reconnaissance unit found them, nor could it. Having captured the city, the militants left immediately and again disappeared in the desert.

"The partition of Syria, which is de facto going on now, will require Russia to invest money and resources into the territories it occupies. The question of why Russia would need it has still not been addressed. As for the argument about a base, it is pointless even to try and counter it. I will again quote Marshal [Nikolai] Ogarkov, who was quite categorical even back in Soviet times: a base in Syria is a trap. It cannot have any military value, purely for geographical reasons. Syria as a foothold for channeling Russian interests is not a good argument either – Russia has no interests. It has not formulated its own development project, and therefore has nothing to channel. Adherents of the maxim 'Those on top are smarter than us, they know better what they are doing' simply do not understand such simple things, so trying to explain anything to them is useless.

"There are dozens of other arguments, but in the end, they all come down to total bafflement regarding the meaning of this war for Russia. Of course, it's a whole different matter that today's Russia is a petty imperialist predator, so the war is waged not in its interests, but in the interests of groups and clans close to power. Their objectives and interests in this war do exist, of course, but then we should be discussing them. There aren't, nor can there be, any interests of the people or the country in this war.

"That is why the attitude to this war is paradoxical. On the one hand, Russia's defeat will be more of a blessing than a tragedy. However, people are dying there, including ours. If only for his reason, one does not feel like wishing defeat for the Russian army. But we must be clearly aware of the fact that there is no other outcome to this war. It is predatory and imperialistic in its essence. Russia has experience in waging such wars, but no experience in retaining the results. Or, rather, its experience is negative. Fighting for your own land is one thing. Fighting for somebody else's is totally different. We don't have the tradition of privateers and 'gentlemen of the road', as our western partners, so trying to imitate them in this sphere, and in a degradation trend at that, is very naïve. It is likely that Putin will solve a number of issues for his partners, will pay for that with soldiers' blood, and after that will be unceremoniously thrown out of Syria like a kicked dog. In fact, it is the most probable outcome of this entire Syrian escapade."


[1] In 2014, Anatoly Nesmeyan was rated the third most influential blogger in Russia. Over the years, he has changed his position vis-à-vis the Kremlin. While he was very supportive of Russian actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, he later became an outspoken critic of Russian involvement in Syria.

[3], October 30, 2017.

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