Vladimir Putin’s America-Friendly Propaganda About Fighting Terror Just Suffered A Big Blow – Huffington Post

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The news agency revealed on Friday that the Russian government has had a deliberate policy of sending radicalized Islamists out of Russia — which means they inevitably end up in the central hub of militant extremism, Syria. In one case, officials allowed a militant placed under house arrest to make it to Moscow’s international airport and start a journey that would end in his joining ISIS’s ranks. In five of the instances Reuters tracked, “Russian authorities had reason to deny [radicals] travel documents and prevent them from leaving the country. But according to relatives and local officials, in each case the authorities made their passage possible.”

Putin’s government adopted this policy in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi because of its fear that radical Islamists would target the marquee event. The scheme ran at least until then, Reuters reported. But it had important consequences regardless of when it ended: A local police officer told the news agency that dozens more Russian radicals left the country after their fellow extremists reached Syria and encouraged them to make the same journey. Again, the militants were able to leave even though Russian authorities had flagged them as individuals of concern.

Thousands of terrorists of Russian origin are now thought to be operating in Syria.

Putin’s spokesman denied the revelations. “Terrorists get annihilated in Russia,” he told Reuters. “It has always been like that, it is like that and it will be in the future.”

But the findings aren’t surprising given Russia’s general approach in Syria and its policies toward radical Islamists at home. Putin and Russia-friendly Assad have long described the Syrian conflict as a fight between a government and an irredeemably extreme foreign-funded opposition, rather than the product of millions of Syrians’ frustration with violent authoritarian rule.

Assad has done his best to make that false binary a reality. His forces have avoided attacking ISIS-controlled areas, even concluding land swaps with the militant group, as they have targeted more moderate groups in the opposition who present a viable alternative to Assad or ISIS for Syria’s future. He has repeatedly released hardcore prisoners, including extremists once nurtured by his own security agencies. And his government has boosted ISIS coffers by buying oil from the radical group.

Reuters’ new report shows that Putin adopted the same approach — likely making a similar calculation that allowing extremists to gain power was acceptable if it would make the Assad regime look like the best option in Syria. For Russia, the policy had the added benefit of moving potential threats far away. Putin’s government has struggled with how to handle radicalization among Russia’s millions-strong Muslim population, and its primary response — severe crackdowns and violations of human rights — has simply encouraged more radicalization.

This means that in spite of Moscow’s slick #RussiaVsISIL propaganda campaign, designed to present its military intervention in Syria as a fight against the best-known radical group there, there’s growing evidence that Putin is helping ISIS thrive.

The new reporting doesn’t even account for how Putin has helped the group recruit fighters worldwide by supporting Assad’s butchery. Regime excesses, enabled and supported by Russia, have for years made armed struggle against the Syrian dictator seem like a noble cause.

The new Reuters report is unlikely to change Russian policy. Most Russians buy Putin’s nationalist, xenophobic rhetoric and doubt Western reporting on his government, and outside players have known for months that Russia’s “fight against terror” in Syria is really about helping Assad.

But it does weaken an important part of Russia’s attempt to remain influential abroad as its economy crumbles and its population ages: cheap, effective information warfare.

So next time an orange man with odd hair tells Americans that Obama is helping ISIS and Russia is the key to defeating it, perhaps they’ll be just a little more wary.

Vladimir Putin’s America-Friendly Propaganda About Fighting Terror Just Suffered A Big Blow – Huffington Post