Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

How the wounded Russian bear could bite back

Vladimir Putin has been punished for his support of Bashar Assad. Credit: PA

Russia is often described as a 'gangster state'.

Putin, the former intelligence officer, a mafia-style Godfather controlling a network of henchmen.

Rightly or wrongly, if you think that rather blunt description is accurate, then Assad would therefore fall into the role of a fellow boss of a criminal organisation and if you hit Assad, you hit Russia too.

Amid talk of military strikes against Syria, a Russian ally, it's worth looking at the broader action already being taken against Russia.

Putin would undoubtedly feel that a US led attack on Syrian forces would not only be targeting Assad but would be an escalation of a Western attempt to undermine him and his control of the Russian state.

Syrian troops in the bombed out ruins on Douma. Credit: PA

Sanctions are hurting Putin and the Kremlin's oligarchs, wiping billions of dollars off the fortunes of those close to the Russian leader.

The solidarity shown by UK allies after the poisoning of Segei Skripal and his daughter, even more pressure.

Kicking out dozens of diplomats from Washington and European capitals will have significantly damaged Russian intelligence gathering capability.

So Russia is sore, reeling from economic sanctions and the emptying of its embassies.

Putin speaking at a military airbase. Credit: PA

That's why we should take the warnings of military retaliation so seriously this time, compared to their muted response when President Trump ordered cruise missile attacks on a Syrian airbase after another chemical weapons atrocity a year ago.

This time it's more likely that we can expect the wounded Russian bear to bite back.

As the West works in a concerted way to punish Putin, we in Europe are also dependent on the country he so firmly controls, mainly for gas and oil.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline through the Baltic will only deepen European consumption of Russian energy.

Russia is lobbying hard in the EU to get Brussels to accept Russian phosphates, claiming that rival supplies from North Africa contain harmful levels of cadmium.

What Russia wants is a monopoly on phosphates, used to make fertiliser.

So one hand the UK, France and the US are poised to attack one of Putin's key allies, on the other the EU, which relies, to a large extent, on Russian energy, could also be about to give Russian state phosphate firms a huge role in future European food security.

Never has the West and the EU had to reply so heavily on 'an enemy'.

As much as the West hurts Putin and his 'gangster state', the Kremlin's control over energy supplies, and perhaps in the future food, means it can increasingly retaliate on a broader range of fronts, not just on the Syrian battlefield.