Now that it is virtually certain that Metrojet Flight 9268, en route between the Red Sea resort at Sharm el Sheikh and St. Petersburg, Russia was brought down by a bomb, Russian President Vladimir Putin has some decisions to make. Since he bases his power more on being feared than on being loved, those decisions are likely to be painful for the people who committed the deed, killing as it did 224 citizens of the Russian Federation.
All depends on how far Putin is prepared to go.
On the maximum side of the options, Putin could decide to end the Islamic State root and branch, something that would fit in with his long-term strategy of propping up Bashir Assad’s Syria. Such an effort would involve more Russian boots on the ground, more air strikes, and a lot more money that needs spending. The question that arises when considering the military option, can Putin afford it, considering all of the other commitments, such as in the Ukraine, that Russia has created for itself in the drive for empire?
No political or diplomatic impediment would stand in Putin’s way. He could cite the precedence of 9/11 when the United States invaded Afghanistan to get at the terrorists who had brought down the World Trade Center and had damaged the Pentagon. Putin would also gain even more street cred by bringing down ISIS, establishing peace and stability to the region, and in the process solve the migrant crisis that is now afflicting Europe. That last may run contrary to Putin’s perceived interests, however. Russia benefits from discord and chaos in Europe due to the influx of unassimilated Muslim migrants.
The other option would be a bit more subtle. Instead of destroying ISIS entirely, Putin could choose to hunt down the specific people who perpetrated the bombing and kill them. The assassination option was the one pursued by Israel when the Black September terrorist group slaughtered a group of athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The FSB, in cooperation with Egyptian authorities, could ferret out and identify ISIS and affiliated terrorists involved in the bombing. Then special Spetznaz hit teams as well as aerial drones could be dispatched to liquidate them. The images of the broken and mutilated bodies of the terrorists could be displayed on the Internet as a warning.
The targeted assassination option has the virtue of being well within Putin’s means to accomplish. Again Russia could cite the precedence set by the United States, which has used targeted assassinations to take out leaders of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Ladin.
The main drawback to the option is that it is not as permanent as the military option. ISIS will still be around to commit murder and mayhem, especially in revenge against Russia.
Russia can expect absolute cooperation from Egypt no matter what Putin intends to do. Tourism is the life’s blood of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, from time to time, occupied itself with shooting up tourist buses with the aim of shutting off the flow of hard currency people from around the world brought to Egypt. The Egyptians responded with commensurate ferocity.
In any event, the terrorists who brought down the airliner have given Vladimir Putin a gift. He now has free rein to act decisively, slaughtering people who most of the world would just as soon see dead in any case. Putin also has the opportunity, once again, to humiliate President Barack Obama, whose response to terrorism has been weak and vacillating. From Russia’s point of view, that is not a bad side effect.