Ian Bateson writes: Since the start of his third term, Putin has fostered a close alliance with the Church, relying on it to champion his decisions in overwhelmingly Orthodox-identifying Russia. Religious justifications for actions have become an increasingly important part of Putin’s propaganda strategy at home. Last year Putin justified annexing Crimea by declaring it “sacred” and “like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Muslims and Jews” — despite the fact it was only incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1783.
Russian media has been adding to the religious connection by applying the same arguments it used to support separatists in Ukraine. The loosely-defined “Russian world” that the Russian media claimed to include parts of Ukraine has now been expanded to make room for Syria. On a Russian debate program a member of Russian parliament, Semyon Bagdasarov, argued that there was “no Orthodoxy or Russia without Syria” and that the historical tradition of Orthodoxy in now-Muslim-majority Syria makes it a “holy land” for Russians and “their” land.
In his weekly televised monologue Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya, linked Russia’s military actions in Syria to the Soviet’s Union’s fight against Nazi Germany. He has made similar comparisons before, accusing Ukraine’s pro-Western government of being a fascist junta that needed to be opposed like Hitler’s Germany. This time he referred to Putin’s claim that the Islamic State posed a Nazi-like threat and required a similar coalition of opponents, calling it a “very precise” rationale for bombing Syria.
Russian media, however, seemed to reach new levels of absurdity when one anchor gave a weather report for Syria, emphasizing that the low winds and minimal precipitation had made October an ideal time for Russian airstrikes. The message seemed to be that even the weather was cooperating with Russian military intervention in Syria.
Many of the people justifying Russia’s involvement in Syria are playing to a system that requires and rewards supporting Putin’s actions once he has declared them. As Putin has re-centralized power in Russia, most governmental, media and civil society organizations function first and foremost to support him. [Continue reading…]