n Monday, Russian forces bombed a humanitarian convoy in Syria. They destroyed 18 aid trucks and killed 20 civilians. But to understand why the Russians did so, you should first search “Putin pen” on YouTube. Watch the final 45 seconds and you’ll see two central tenets of Putin’s personality: first, his hard-edged sense of humor; second, his cultivation of varying images of himself. Putin wants some to view him as a tough-headed realist. He wants others to see him as a servant of the common man. And most important, he wants his adversaries to believe he is a leader who cannot be deterred from his destiny.
That cultivation of his image is exactly why Putin bombed this convoy. The Russians are denying that their aircraft were operating above Aleppo during the strike, but they know the U.S. government quickly figured out that they were responsible. After all, every time the Russians or Syrians launch jets, U.S. radar and intelligence assets carefully monitor them, warning U.S. forces of any deliberate Russian or Syrian air strike. The monitoring also provided valuable intelligence on where Russian military attention is focused. Regardless, Putin knows the U.S. employs these capabilities and that we would have been focused on Russia’s heavy air coverage of Aleppo. And that leads to the key takeaway: Putin just doesn’t care that he’s been caught. On the contrary, his strategy is actually served by his lack of concern.
In destroying the humanitarian convoy, Putin has simply reinforced his longstanding message to the West. In many ways, it is pitch-perfect. An aid convoy is not off-limits, Putin is telling President Obama — which means that we should expect worse to come. In other words, unless the United States accepts keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin will continue to burn Syria. And Assad — totally undeterred by the pathetic weakness of U.S. deterrent power — revels in this longstanding slaughter strategy. Russia might hint that this attack is retaliation for the accidental U.S. bombing of Syrian soldiers, but it wasn’t. Instead, it was pure Putin: deliberate and brutal application of force in the service of a long-term strategy.Russia is publicly denying responsibility. We shall see if post-America will work to see that the world knows the truth. Don't hold your breath.