Hovering over Vladimir Putin’s reckless adventurism in Syria is the Moslem demographic shadow threatening his Russian Federation.
The Russians’ mushrooming Moslem population is part and parcel of the Russian leader’s whirling-dervish act to try to resurrect Moscow’s status as a superpower. It explains, in some measure, Putin’s desperate attempts to bring back under Moscow control the Slavs of Ukraine, Byelorussia, and ewven Russian-speakers in the Baltic States.
When Putin recently opened one of the world’s largest mosques in Moscow, it was a tacit acknowledgement of the power of his growing Muslim population. It was also an effort to forge a compact between a Moslem state organization and the Russian regime, modeled after that which ties the Kremlin – and Putin – to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The official 2002 census reckons Putin has 14.5 million Moslems [out of a total population of 144 million]. Ravil Gaynutdin, head of the Council of Muftis [Putin’s official Moslem religious hierarchy] claimed in August 2005 that Russia’s population included 23 million ethnic Moslems. The latter figure seems closer to reality with some estimates, for example, counting more than 3 million Moslems in Moscow alone, out of a total of some 13 million. Russian Federation population figures got a slight boost when, after the implosion of the Soviet Union, there was an immediate influx of Russian Slav ethnics from the former non-Slav majority “Soviet Republics” in Central Asia.
But the Moslem factor takes on additional significance because the overall Russian population is in sharp and unprecedented historical decline. It reached a tipping point at 148.6 million in 1991, somewhere around 140-145 million now, but declining toward a projected less than 130 million by 2025 While the Russian Federation’s Muslim population is also not reproducing at a rate to sustain it, it is considerably higher than for the Slavs.
That means that when Putin plunged into Syria to fight Moslems and called up an additional 150,000 conscripts, he had to wish away a Russian general staff estimate that by 2025, most of his new soldiers would come principally from Moslem non-Slav ethnic groups.. Contradictorily, his growing jingoistic domestic appeal – and in part the basis of his popularity — to traditional Russian Orthodox Christian loyalties is bound to clash, sooner or later, with the growing body of increasingly Islamicized Moslems on which his armed forces will be dependent.
The Russian leader’s highly unreliable puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman “president” of Chechnya, called on Putin to expand his operations in Syria, “using Moslem ground troops”. Kadyrov was slyly reminding Putin, with whom he has had a stormy relationship, that increasingly the Russian regime is dependent on good relations with its Moslem minority. Even with Kadyrov’s gangster regime, with its long history of Russian wars of domination going back to the 18th century, Chechnya is a virtually occupied region. And its violence has spilled over to the neighboring North Caucus states, the route of traditional Russian imperialism toward Georgia and Armenia, and the dream for an opening one day to the Indian Ocean.
But whether or not Putin is taking the Chechen leader’s advice, on his way to a wider conflict with Daesh [ISIS, ISIL], he took time out to smack the shaky anti-Assad rebels backed by CIA. It was growing Russian air activity over Syria that took Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, not as traditionally waiting on his American ally, to Moscow a week ago, ostensibly to set up traffic controls. For the Israelis, the transfers of Iranian weaponry for Hezbollah’s participation on the Russian-Iran-Damascus side in the bloody civil war, is an important strategic and tactical issue. Did that mean that Israeli intelligence, unlike Washington, was prepared for the spurt in Putin’s Syrian intervention?
By bombing the CIA-supported relatively ineffectual anti-regime forces in Syria, especially those on the edge of Syrian leader Basher al-Assad’s Allawite base on the Mediterranean, Putin taunted Obama and his continued call for Basher to step down before a provisional end of the war can be found. It was also a way at thumbing his nose at Obama, answering the American and EU sanctions against Moscow for his flagrant aggression in Ukraine. Whether Putin can maintain a longer term commitment in Syria given the generally sorry state of the Russian military remains to be seen.
But with what the White House acknowledges is no U.S. strategy on Syria and almost total disarray among the Western allies, Putin comes across as a skilled strategist. The old Greek proverb, “In the kingdom of the blind, a one-eye man is king”, is well known to the Russians too.
Putin’s appeal to live with the worst of the Arab dictatorships in Damascus, hoping it will eventually keep a peace of the dead, flies in some circles even outside Russia, some European rightwingers and American isolationists. But it frightens America’s traditional regional allies, ironically Israel in tacit alliance with the Arabs led now again by Egypt, who see Obama’s “deal” with Iran as enhancing Tehran’s hand as it, and Putin, go all out to support the nominally secular Damascus tyranny.