Russian citizens expressed dismay this week that their nation may soon be embroiled in a long and unwinnable conflict, with the memory of Russia’s war in Afghanistan (1979-89) still not forgotten.
The fall of the Soviet Union left many Russian people on the wrong side of a “line on a map” as Putin explained in a 60 Minutes interview last Sunday. That, he explained, is why many viewed his decision to annex Crimea as the right one.
On Syria, however, they are having their doubts.
Many are worried that a military engagement in Syria may lead to more terror attacks at home, and the fear appears to be warranted. In December 2013 a suicide bombing killed 34 people and a 2002 attack on a Moscow theater resulted in over 130 civilian deaths. Both attacks were the work of Islamic extremist groups.
Russian officials have claimed the offensive will not last more than a few months, but unless it plans on allowing the U.S. and its allies to clean up the mess once ISIS is defeated in Syria, it would be wise to doubt such statements.
All one has to do is look at the United States’ results in Iraq, which now finds itself under attack from Kurdish militias, in addition to ISIS.
Putin may have moved on the Syria question so quickly in order to spend the political capital he gained from his handling of the Ukraine invasion. Another factor may have been the U.S. coalition’s limited success in countering ISIS in the region.
If the coalition fails to stop the spread of ISIS, as it seems to be doing, Russia’s geographical proximity puts it in more danger than the U.S.
Yet despite the tactical considerations for involvement in Syria everyday Russians still remain deeply skeptical of another war.
“We are scared about the repercussions,” said Natalia, a retired 52-year-old, at Lyubyanka metro station, one of the sites of twin suicide bombings in 2010 that killed 39 people.
“Everyone remembers what happened here, right here at this station. Only a fool would say he wasn’t scared,” she said. “It’s scary what’s happening in Syria.”