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Sep 21, 2015

Putin's Middle East Goals are More Economic Than Political

Putin’s goal in the Middle East is to raise the price of oil.  If war and chaos stop or even just reduce Middle East oil exports, the value of Russian oil production goes up.  Putin profits from chaos, so that's why he's selling weapons to the Iranians and putting troops in Syria.  If the Persian Gulf is closed to shipping due to war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it's good for Putin's business. 

Putin's Russia has only one big money world class export sector, energy. Many of their major competitors in the world energy market are based in the Middle East. Putin hopes war and chaos in the Middle East will result in less oil and natural gas production in the region, which would drive up the price of oil. Putin probably needs an oil price of at least $100 per barrel to keep his regime out of bankruptcy. Today, the price of oil is about $46 per barrel. All of the prestige arguments are nice extras for Putin. But Putin's rise to power came after Russia's financial crisis in 1998 when the price of oil collapsed, Russian inflation topped 80% and Russia defaulted on its debts. The aftermath of the 1998 crisis forced Boris Yeltsin to leave power and Yeltsin choose Putin as his successor. Putin knows he can't survive another Russian financial meltdown. He needs a much higher price for oil and natural gas. So Putin is stirring the pot in hopes that he can foment a major war or at least continued chaos which reduces or completely shuts down oil exports from the Middle East. 

The fact that Putin is openly putting Russian troops on the ground in the Middle East says bad things about President Obama.  In 1973, when the Soviet Union was getting ready to send 6 paratroop divisions to Egypt, President Nixon raised the DEFCON alert level of all US Armed Forces.  I was a computer programmer in the 26th Air Division Headquarters, a huge concrete blockhouse near Phoenix, Arizona, that controlled air defense for the Southwestern United States.  My war time duty was to use prevailing wind direction and speed to predict fallout radiation levels at Air Force bases downwind from nuclear ground bursts.  I got a phone call at about 9:30 PM calling me back to base.  Since we had a practice war that morning, it was not a drill.  Nixon, in effect, was threatening to get nasty if the Russians sent troops to help the Egyptians.  The Russians backed down.  I did not find out until the next morning why the DEFCON alert level had been raised.  My superiors had their orders, but were not given the reason for them.

The president we have today would never think of ordering a higher DEFCON alert level.  Barry the Brilliant has stopped the US from protecting innocent Syrian civilians from the choice of either barrel bombs and poison gas from Bashir al Assad, Iran and Russia, or holy terror, beheadings and sex slave auctions from ISIS.  However, Obama can't stop the Israelis from defending themselves against Russian aggression. 

The Russians have just entered a very tough neighborhood.  They probably have forgotten the lesson of the Israel-Syria Air War of 1982. The Russians, then as now were Syria's main arms supplier.   During a few days in June, 1982, the Israeli Air Force wiped out Syria's ground based air defense systems and shot down 82 Syrian fighter planes. Both the crews of surface to air missile sites and the fighter pilots were officially Syrian, but actually mainly Russian.  IAF losses were 0.  That's right, no Israeli aircraft were lost.  Although times and technologies have changed, the motivation of the IAF has not diminished.  They know that they either win or their families will be slaughtered. 

Putin probably has no intention of trying to win in Syria.  Realistically, I think a Russian win in Syria is beyond Putin’s reach.  Israel will not permit a Russian base which provides unlimited military supplies to their enemies in Lebanon and Syria to exist, and they have the means to destroy it militarily.  Putin just wants to extend the chaos in the Middle East for as long as possible.  If he gets a permanent naval port and airbase out of it, so much the better.  But chaos itself is good for Russian business and thus good enough for Putin.



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