What do Poland and Syria have in common? Both have been playgrounds for Russian adventurism and political manipulation by the application of brute (sometimes brutal) military force.
History tells us of the product of the Molotov-Ribbentrop meeting. Ribbentrop was Hitler’s foreign minister and Molotov was Stalin’s representative. At the meeting they agreed to invade and split Poland. The actual beginning of WWII hostilities is well known to have begun with the 30 day defeat of the, at the time, well respected Polish military. The world was amazed at the rapidity and overwhelming nature of the Nazi assault. What escaped the world’s notice at the time and for decades later was the Russian invasion of Poland and immediate subjugation of Poland’s people. The climax of that largely clandestine and unpublicized effort was the marching of about 20,000 Polish officers and cadets into the Katyn forest where they were cold bloodedly executed for being potential threats to Russian control.
For decades the Soviet Union successfully denied the Katyn forest massacre. The lies were as imaginative as they were insidious. The ploys included breaking relations with the Polish government in exile when it asked the Red Cross to investigate and blaming the Germans even though they weren’t in that part of Poland when the executions happened. Katyn was only officially acknowledged by the Soviet Union by Premier Gorbachev in 1989. It was a short contrition period. Indicating business was back to usual, Russia has been engaged in an active misinformation campaign denying the numbers murdered by the NKVD (Soviet WWII era secret police), blaming the Nazis again and even raising Soviet prisoners that died of disease in the 1920’s as a counter-Katyn to minimize Russian guilt.
The murder of 20,000 Polish officers, cadets, teachers, priests and government officials facilitated Russia’s control of Poland but not enough. A couple of years later the radio Moscow urged the Polish resistance to rise in Warsaw as their inexorable red military machine ground the Nazis under it. The Poles did and the Russians inexplicably stopped. They stopped for over two weeks until the Warsaw uprising was crushed despite the pleas of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Western allies even dropped supplies and offered air support but the Russians denied landing rights. 16,000 resistance fighters were killed and upwards of 150,000 Warsaw residents were killed many to Nazi firing squads. As the Free Polish resistance was shattered, Russia then resumed its advance. The potentially pesky underground was taken care of by the Nazis after the Russians had encouraged them to rise in revolt.
Fast forward to today. Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani travels to Moscow and has a Molotov – Ribbentrop-esque meeting to plan a joint intervention into Syria. Almost two weeks ago Russia deployed significant military forces into Syria. Much of the world applauded the Russian incursion. None spoke up against it and only a few in the most lukewarm terms mentioned some concern about the number, manner and goal of the Russian intervention. Meanwhile the Russians engaged in a very public offensive mesmerizing the world with military might and portraying the strikes as surgical and targeting ISIS. The strikes are neither. Russia/Putin exclusively targets forces arrayed against Assad excluding ISIS.
Amongst all the concern and even some foolish enthusiasm over Russia’s actions what has been largely unrecognized is Russia is shaping the political outcome in Syria much like it did in Poland during WWII to include a massive disinformation campaign. After any resistance to Assad that has or could possibly garner western support is destroyed the only choices will be Assad (Russia/Iran) or ISIS similar to the WWII choice of Nazism vs. Communism. Even if the world decided to weigh in there would be no organized moderate Syrian opposition to support. Instead of meditating on what 250,000 Syrians died for or what the future consequences will be, the world will hold its nose, support Putin/Assad/Iran or at least stand aside as they re-establish Assad’s control of Syria. Besides the moral abdication of any responsibility for what is happening or will happen in the region people will naively expect the middle east to return to the ante bellum status quo. That is not going to happen. Russia and Iran have much greater ambitions in the region. If not they would have welcomed the West’s feeble attempts to do something in Syria.
The parallels to previous history are extremely hard to ignore as are the lessons. Then, like now, the West ignores a concrete record of Russia utilizing its military to kill political rivals in an area they wish to subjugate. Russia also employs an effective disinformation campaign that leverages the West’s self-destructive desire for peace at any cost as well as the typical useful idiots who believe and often parrot Russian disinformation.