28 October 2016

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OpinionThe last Herostratus

In 356 B.C., the Greek city of Ephesus on the territory of present-day Turkey suffered a major fire - the pride of the city, the famous temple of Artemis, has burned to the ground. A local man named Herostratus plead guilty to committing an arson. As he was tortured, he told the authorities that he went for it in order to be remembered by his descendants. And, in fact, that’s how it all went down after all: 23 centuries have passed but his name still lives on.

Of course, no one really calls their kids in his honor and no one worships him in church. Rather, the world remembers him with a slight smile as some Greek fool, with a note that this fool was an ambitious one. However, the important thing here is that he is still remembered.

Actually, there have been plenty of such “heroes”. And the more power they had, the larger the temples they burned, taking millions of lives along with them.

Of course, we are familiar with the other reasons to launch wars - political, self-serving ones. But still, I dare to suggest that plain selfishness of rulers was one of the motives - they were just too narcissistic. After all, to remain in the memory of future generations and to influence their destiny is the only thing they are left to do when they feel their journey is over. Generations pass, the names of millions killed in wars are gradually forgotten, their graves are long covered with grass, their descendants live their own lives, thinking more about their children than about their ancestors. But the names of conquerors live on. "He was a bad person, but certainly a great one," people use to say about them.

And today, 70 years after the last mass grinder, the question lingers of the ambition of today’s conquerors.

Let's assume that Putin wants to go down in history and is actually preparing for war. Let’s suggest he is not playing political games, rather wanting to fight and win (naturally, assessing nuclear warfare scenarios).

Obviously, you cannot win alone, so firstly, you need allies. To get them, you need the ground for negotiations. You do not need order and peace to this end – you need problems, disaccord, intertwined interests, and of course, you need war – hybrid war, full of lies, waged on foreign soil, and - what would be a very "successful" case – religion-driven.

In order to get involved in that kind of war and justify it before your own people, blowing up your airplane would be just enough. Then none of your compatriots would say a thing to contradict your agenda. Of course, no one even thinks about feeling sorry for several dozens of victims, including children. It’s not the Kremlin style. Then, of course, you blame it on the terrorists (no one is really going to fight them anyway). Remember, recently Russia deployed its S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, despite the fact that the Islamic State has never had any air force whatsoever? Who are they going to shoot down? The bottom line is that the plane has been blown up, people have been buried, the grass is growing on their graves, while the reason for military involvement remains. It really is hard to believe in this scenario, but the timing is just a bit too perfect for these things to be pure coincidence...

Putin is already playing this long game, and the question is, how far he is willing to go and whether he will eventually go all-in...

Second, while preparing for war, you need to know the weaknesses of your adversaries - both military and political. For this purpose, you need to provoke them, making them grow accustomed to false alarms and watching their reaction – violate their air space, invade their land… Just a few days ago, two Russian Tu-160 bombers flew straight down to the northern parts of Spain and then returned back to their base on the same route. Air forces of four countries scrambled their jets to intercept Russian warplanes. Meanwhile, these interceptions have already become too commonplace...

Also, one shouldn’t forget about the intensive military drills along the border with Ukraine over the past two years, where tens of thousands of troops and a large number of military hardware was amassed. Imagine the temptation to finally use it all!

And third, in order to win, you need to weaken the enemy – create maximum disunity in their ranks, split the existing unions, slowly but surely warming up national chauvinism, supporting local and marginal populists, using blackmail and bribery. In short, first the enemies must be split, and then worked with, separately... At the same time, there is no real need to deal with the welfare of your own people. What you need is the nation’s loyalty (so that the people don’t interfere), and here is where propaganda kicks in.

It is clear that these things are not done over the course of a month or even a year. But it seems that Putin is already playing this long game, and the question is, how far he is willing to go and whether he will eventually go all-in. At the same time, apparently, his opponents for some reason decided to play short games, without looking forth, beyond their term of office...

Now, let's throw this whole conspiracy thing aside, let’s smile and pretend that all will end well. In a few years, the sanctions finally crush the Russian economy, the West will mobilize, there will be no new "Exits", the Kremlin will have to reconcile with the United States and withdraw its troops from Syria and Donbas as well as de-occupy Crimea, and this new Cold War will die out.

The aging Putin will hand over his power to some younger KGB (FSB) man and retire. Just like Buddha, he will be traveling between his palaces, shine with his wrinkled face on TV during some public events, sitting among the audience of “ordinary Russians" as the guest of honor. He may also keep flying with the Siberian Cranes, riding a horse, and going fishing. Then he will get ill and die in a warm bed, only to be mummified and buried in a mausoleum, according to a good old Russian tradition.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But somehow it seems that he loves himself too much to hit the bucket so quietly...

Taras Sydorzhevsky

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