In the aftermath of the bombing inside a St. Petersburg train station earlier this week, the Russian government had a chance — albeit a slim one — to garner international sympathy.
The now typical international response that follows such terror attacks was muted around the world, and I thought that was a mistake. Whatever anger each of us feels about the Kremlin should not be directed at the Russian people, in my opinion; those private citizens have little chance to affect government policy.
It was possible for the Kremlin to move public opinion to its side if it had shown some humility and grace, and accepted the various calls for whatever help might be needed to ease the national pain.
Instead it doubled down on Syria.
In a remarkable demonstration of hubris (or stupidity), the Kremlin questioned whether the chemical attack Syrian president Bashar al-Assad released on his people was legitimate. Consider what RT, the state-owned and ever-happy-to-promote-the-Kremlin-line, is reporting:
Moscow will continue to support Syrian Army troops in their anti-terrorism effort, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, after being asked whether Russian policy had changed following a reported chemical attack in the Idlib province.
Peskov cited the opinion of the Russian military, which said the contamination may have been caused by damage to a rebel chemical weapons storage site.
Damage to a rebel chemical weapons storage site?
Suffice to say that there is no international support for such an idea. Reuters notes that even U.S. president Donald Trump, who had spoken favorably of Assad in the past, is angry.
“I will tell you, what happened yesterday is unacceptable to me,” Trump told reporters at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Wednesday.
“And I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” though when asked at an earlier meeting whether he was formulating a new policy on Syria, Trump said: “You’ll see.”
Trump’s attitude might have changed; it would appear Vladimir Putin’s has not.