Russia's President is using the Syrian crisis for other endsby Bill Browder / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
With Vladimir Putin’s recent military foray into the Middle East, everyone is wondering why exactly he is there. Russia’s President would have the world believe that he is helping to defeat Islamic State. More sceptical observers would say that he is in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad and to protect Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base at Tartus. The shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish forces in November has made Russia’s presence in the region even more complicated.
While there is some truth in the justifications, Putin’s primary reason for military intervention has nothing to do with Syria. It has to do with Ukraine and the economic sanctions the west imposed on Russia after its invasion of that country in early 2014.
Putin presents a self-confident facade to the world, publishing videos of his workout routine and touting his supposed 89 per cent approval rating, but the reality is that he is in a state of raw panic. Russia’s economic crisis is accelerating. Russian companies have hard currency debt in excess of $600bn which, because of sanctions, cannot be refinanced by western banks. The only source of funds to repay this debt is the $400bn in cash at the Russian Central Bank. Under most projections, Russia will run out of money in two to three years unless sanctions are lifted. He desperately needs the sanctions lifted.