Putin unlikely to let a US strike in Syria go unanswered


MOSCOW (AP) — Faced with the threat of a U.S. strike on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a dilemma: allow U.S. missiles to hit Moscow's ally without a response or risk a military clash with the United States.

If driven into a corner by a U.S. attack, Putin will be unlikely to sit back. Inaction would threaten his hard-won gains in Syria, dent Russia's prestige and erode his tough-guy image.

"It's our president who decides the fate of the world!" ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared on Russian state television.

During past crises in recent years, Putin has responded by overturning the chessboard.

When Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from power in February 2014 by mass protests, Putin reacted to what he described as a U.S.-driven coup by immediately sending troops to overtake Crimea and then annexing the Black Sea peninsula.

Commenting later on those developments, he said that he was ready to put Russia's nuclear forces on high alert in case of "the most negative developments" amid tensions with the West over Crimea. He noted that he bluntly warned his Western counterparts that Russia was ready to fight for Crimea.

Moscow followed up on that by supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, and it didn't budge in the face of several waves of crippling U.S. and European Union sanctions.

When Syrian President Bashar Assad's government was teetering on the brink of collapse in 2015, it took Putin just a few weeks to mount a military campaign that saved Russia's longtime ally and eventually turned the tide of war in his favor.

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