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Russian Il-20 loss in Syria reveals Putin powerless to protect his own



15 Russians
died on Tuesday when its ally, Syria, shot down an Il-20.

Wikimedia Commons

  • Russia’s ally Syria shot down one of its planes on Tuesday,
    and it exposes how Russian President Vladimir Putin is strangely
    powerless to protect his own people or do much more than enforce
    the status quo.
  • Russia has suffered a number of humiliating defeats in Syria
    while its economy has entered a downward spiral.
  • Putin portrays himself as powerful, but he has failed to
    protect Russians time and time again.

Russia grappled with a tragedy on Tuesday after its ally, Syria,
mistakenly shot down one of its planes flying above the
Mediterranean, and it shows how Russian President Vladimir Putin
is strangely powerless to protect his own people.

After Russia’s Il-20 went down on Tuesday, the Russian Defense
Ministry quickly blamed Israel for the downing of the jet by a
Syrian missile. Israel had attacked Syria with low flying jets evading and
jamming radar
during a prolonged missiles trike.

Syria missile defenses, unable to get a fix on the Israeli
fighters, instead spotted a large, slower-moving Russian spy
plane flying overhead, locked on, and killed 15 Russians with a
Russian-made missile. 

“With so much congestion in the Syrian air, it’s not
surprising at all,” Anna Borschevskaya, a Russia expert with the
Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told Business insider.
“This is not the first time when Putin looked like he couldn’t
protect his people.”

After Russian generals blamed Israel and promised
“countermeasures” in response, Putin called it a tragic accident
and attributed no blame and promised no retaliation

he skies above Syria remain combative and
congested. Russian planes continue their routes. Syrian air
defense officers remain jumpy on the trigger, and there’s no
indication this won’t happen again.

Paper tiger Putin

Khmeimim airbase
this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense
Ministry official web site on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, two Russian
SU-25 ground attack aircrafts take off from an airbase Hmeimim in


Russia entered the Syrian conflict with a roar in September 2015.
Russian air power saved Syrian President Bashar Assad from a
backsliding civil war that promised to crush him.

Russian missile defenses protected him and their servicemen
all but ensured the US wouldn’t
raise a finger against the Syrian dictator
no matter how
badly he battered his own

But three years have passed, and though Assad remains in power,
Russians are still dying in Syria, and the country itself has
become isolated and weak. Russia has lost nine fixed wing
aircraft and an untold number of helicopters in Syria. The US
devastated a column of Russian
that approached its position in Syria, killing
300 or so with superior air power. 

Recently, when the US threatened Syria with further punishment
for chemical weapons attacks, Russia threatened again to hit US
forces in Syria. The US responded with live fire drills, and
Russia soon backed down off the

After US strikes on Syria in April 2017 and 2018, Russia
threatened retaliation or to cut communication with the US both
times. Both times, nothing happened. 

Putin has time and time again asserted himself as the a powerful
figure by exploiting the void left by the US’s refusal to engage
with Syria’s civil war. But time and time again, Putin has failed
to protect his own people.

“Putin filled a vacuum in Syria, but he didn’t need to be
super powerful to do that,” said Borshchevskaya. “Presence is
often relevance, and that’s what happened in Syria.”

While Russia has openly taunted the US
to intervene in Syria
, Putin has merely correctly estimated
the US’s complacence, rather than having legitimately scared off
a determined foe. Putin masterfully played off this lack of US
political will to convince many European US allies that the US
was scared.

“So many people in the West were so worried of risking a war with
Russia over Syria,” said Borshchevskaya. “That
was never going to happen. They don’t want to fight a war with
us. They know they can’t win it.”

Russia strong and weak at the same time

Vladimir Putin Bashar al-Assad Syria Russia
President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December
11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017.

Thomson Reuters

While Russia projects strength with a raggedy aircraft carrier in
and a three-year-long military campaign that’s managed
to secure a status quo without definitively beating pockets of
unsophisticated rebels, it’s own people felt the hurt.

Putin’s aggressiveness in dealing with Syria, Ukraine, and his
links to international instances of Kremlin critics being
poisoned has led to Russia getting sanctioned and isolated the
world over.

In August, Putin broke a 2005 promise not to raise the retirement
age, reminding many Russians that due to low national life
expectancies, they would die before they saw a dime of their
pensions, but had lived to see that money spent in Syria and
Ukraine. Mass demonstrations broke out
across the country.

Russia has done well to achieve its limited objective of keeping
Assad in power in Syria. But when it comes to protecting Russian
lives, the loss of the Il-20 points to a “hugely embarrassing”
trend for Putin failing his people,
said Borshchevskaya

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