Andrey Babitsky: Hmeymim as a Milestone in the History of Russia

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Journalist Andrey Babitsky about how Putin by his victory in Syria proved that he is a much more astute politician than his Western counterparts…

A colossal distance separates the Putin today in Hmeymim from the Putin who, in September 2015, at the UN in New York appealed to the leaders of the Western coalition with a question that wonderfully combines anger, sarcasm, and contempt: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”. The choice of verb in itself to describe the actions of America and its allies pointed out how the President of the far away Russia evaluates the attempts of the West to restore order on the planet. The “done” in the constructed context of Putin’s speech meant to take action without caring about the consequences, and not wanting to be held responsible for those same consequences.

A shattered Iraq, a destroyed to the ground and overturned into primitive savagery Libya, a Syria almost at that time brought to collapse – it is such a way that the result of the joint efforts of “respected partners” were seen, who believed that they had the full and definitive right to cancel all national sovereignties existing on the planet and to rule people at their own discretion. It is precisely then — in September — having concluded the month prior an agreement with Bashar al-Assad, that Russia starts the transfer of its Air Force to the Syrian Arab Republic. Moscow intervenes in what America and its allies “have done”, and no one else, including, I think, also the Russian leader, can really predict what will be the results of this intervention.

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However, someone can. The then US President Barack Obama, many Western politicians of the first echelon, and also our liberal community, contemptuously shrugging their shoulders, drew the prospects of the shameful and inglorious failure, comparing what they called the “Syrian adventure” to the military operation of the USSR in Afghanistan.

I remember very well how loudly and confidently these voices sounded, driving into the spleen of those Russian citizens who did not want any shame for their country, but who were not sure of the correctness of the decision by the President. Our sudden and unexpected-for-many military presence in Syria caused for many normal people rather confusion and fear – there was no question about widespread approval and unconditional support. Our society was painfully pondering: “Why do we need this? Did the President make a fatal mistake or not?”.

Is someone today able to remember those fears, looking at the Supreme Commander, giving the order for the withdrawal of most of the Russian Air Force in connection with the successful completion of tasks? And if you can revive that feeling of uncertainty, those panicky doubts, then, perhaps, they will seem ridiculous to you now.

A staggering success, achieved with a small number of forces, belongs not only to the President, not to Russian officers – who by means of rotation all served in Syria over two years, not to Bashar al-Assad – who came to Hmyemim to express gratitude to his Russian counterpart, this is a triumph for the whole country, for all its citizens, who back then — in the autumn of 2015 — didn’t know how to perceive the situation, how to evaluate and what to expect from the unexpected decision of the Russian leadership about participation in the far away and not very understandable war.

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We see such a Putin for the first time. Putin-triumpher, who managed to put a patch on the torn, it seemed, into shreds and already impossible to regenerate reality. 90% of the country is controlled by the forces of Bashar al-Assad, the combat losses of the Russian forces over two years is one jet and less than a hundred people. The results can be called incredible, and this would not be an exaggeration.

ISIS is moribund. The power that was rapidly slipping away in 2015 from the hands of Assad, now is factually returned to him in full. But most importantly, the mechanism of hegemony of the US and its allies, who systematically annulled the sovereignties of countries put in situations that they for one reason or another did not suit, was broken. The very concept of national sovereignty returned thanks to Russia to international-legal relations. It turned out that it is possible also in this way not merely to not obey the will of the most powerful nation on the planet, but to act against it. And not in the diplomatic field, but on the battlefield.

There were strange, touching, and mournful words from Washington and Paris in recent days, almost a supplication that the victory over ISIS was achieved by the efforts of the US and its allies, and that Russia wants to assign the success solely to itself. But at the Russian base in Syria, Vladimir Putin speaks in front of the Russian military and Bashar al-Assad. It’s impossible to imagine Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron, even with very rich and perverse imaginations, to report on the Syrian territory about the fulfilment of tasks in front of their militaries, surrounded by leaders of the so-called Syrian opposition, which seemingly have lost interest in themselves because of the insignificance of their own military and political weight.

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The name of the Russian military base itself, as of today, entered into all history books, although they themselves probably do not know about it. Putin in Hmeymim is evidence that Russia has coped with its undertaken mission to stop global chaotisation, to rectify the state of affairs after God knows what a certain someone had “done” on this quite small, as it turns out, planet, not realising themselves what they are doing.

Hmeymim – it is beautiful, unexpected, and very impressive. I hope that the next stop-off is Donetsk.

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