How Putin has used the Boston bombing to justify his support for Assad

Alan Philps writes: In Mr Putin’s view, the Chechen struggle for independence from Russia was a stage in the break-up by Sunni Muslim militants of the Eurasian state system. It began with the US-supported mujahideen destroying the Afghan state, leading to the creation of Al Qaeda.

The Chechen bid for independence, Mr Putin has said, could have led to the break-up of Russia, where one seventh of the population is Muslim. By reconquering the Chechen territories in 1999-2000 and installing the Kadyrov family, former rebels turned Moscow loyalists, as rulers, he claims to have foiled the “Balkanisation” of Russia.

In Mr Putin’s view, the US has been doing the opposite. It has allowed Islamist governments to take over in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt; it has left Iraq in a state of low-level war; and now it wants to oust the Syrian leader, Bashar Al Assad, a Kremlin ally and a rare surviving example of a secular leader in the region.

For the past two years, Russia has helped the Syrian leader to follow Mr Putin’s playbook for defeating the jihadists. Thanks to its diplomatic support, the Kremlin has made sure that outside forces are impotent in the Syria crisis.

Mr Assad loses no opportunity to dismiss the rebel forces as Al Qaeda placemen, just as the Kremlin took to calling the Chechen rebels foreign “Wahhabis”. There are strong suspicions that Syrian intelligence even nurtured the jihadist forces (which in the previous decade they had funnelled into Iraq to fight the Americans) into the organisation now known as the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra, to give the rebels a bad name.

Mr Assad is even using the domino theory: in a TV interview on Syrian independence day he warned Jordan that if it continued to support the rebels, it would be the next to face their fire.

Syria, of course, is not Chechnya. The Chechen conflict, for all its brutality and bloodshed, had few international repercussions. But every country in the region is affected by what is happening in Syria. Also, the armed force available to President Assad is nothing like the firepower that Mr Putin assembled to crush the chaotic and faction-ridden Chechen government in 1999.

The false parallel between Chechnya and Syria has not stopped the Kremlin from using the Boston Marathon bombing as a further argument against the arming of the anti-Assad rebels.

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