- - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

From the “Nazis” in Ukraine to the terrorists in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin is very good at using international incidents to keep the Russian public’s mind off their problems at home. In fact, it’s a pattern that started with Mr. Putin’s rise to power and his defeat of the Russian, Islamist region of Chechnya in two brutal wars in the 1990s.

The shoot-down of a Russian military aircraft by NATO over northern Syria plays right into this scenario. The Russian public is extremely angry over the incident on the Turkish-Syrian border and drinking the Kool-aid being fed to them by the Russian media. According to Russian television, the Internet and radio, the Russian plane never entered Turkish airspace and was returning to base empty at the time it was shot down.

What better way to maintain a nationalistic, patriotic fervor in the face of a severe recession than to have one of your fighter jets blown out of the sky by an Islamist government, especially after the downing of the Russian airliner over Egypt by the Islamic State. Russian social media is exploding with anger and rage toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Putin’s phrase, #StabbedInTheBack is now the trending hashtag. Mr. Erdogan is being portrayed as a blood-sucking vampire. Boycotting Turkish tourism is the new tactic for revenge as the Russian public calls for even more militaristic retribution. Ending economic cooperation with the Turkish state is also gaining support, even though that could cost Russia billions in lost energy revenue.

The problem for NATO and the United States is that the Russian public sees the alliance as the impetus behind the so-called premeditated provocation. One would hope the Obama White House would be making it very clear that any desire of Turkey’s to pull NATO into an orchestrated conflict with Russia will not be supported.

The bottom line is that Mr. Putin has further cemented his hold on Russia after the Turkey incident. His popularity is stronger than ever. It’s a testament to his mastery of manipulation of the Russian people, who are desperate to put enough food on the table as winter approaches.

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