The World Cup of soccer is taking place in 2018. I should be excited, but I’m not. Why? Well, first of all, my favorite squad, Italy, won’t be competing for the first time since the 1950’s. But there’s a much more important reason. The 2018 World Cup is being hosted by Russia, or as I prefer to call it, Putin’s Russia. I call it this because I don’t want to associate the whole of the Russian people with the crimes of their tyrannical leader.
Putin’s Russia is growing stronger and more dangerous. Of particular concern to me is how much closer its armed forces are to my ancestral homeland, the motherland of the Jewish people, Israel. Two years ago, Russian forces began directly intervening in the Syrian civil war to bail out Putin’s ally and fellow dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. To this day, Russian warplanes are bombing rebel-held territory in Syria, causing countless civilian casualties and seemingly endless suffering. The Russians already had a military presence in Syria in the form of a naval base on the Syrian coast in the northwest of the country. Now that presence is a lot larger, and I must say, very discomforting to me as an Israeli. Putin’s Russia and Israel are not enemies yet, but I am certain that they will be in the near future. Putin already gives strong support to Israel’s enemies. Not just to Syria, but also to Iran, which in turn supports the terrorist group, Hezbollah, right on Israel’s doorstep.
Putin’s intervention in Syria has put Russian warplanes perilously close to Israeli airspace. And I don’t think it takes a genius to realize that if Putin wanted to, he could have those same planes that are now bombing Syrian cities strike Tel Aviv, Haifa and other Israeli population centers. To make matters worse, Russia and Egypt have recently drafted an agreement that would allow Russian planes to use Egyptian air bases. If this agreement is implemented, Israel will face the danger of Russian air power on two fronts.
I believe that Russian encroachment in the Middle East and elsewhere will only grow as it fills the void left by an increasingly isolationist United States. This brings me back to the World Cup, which I think will mark the beginning of a new phase in Putin’s plans to expand Russia’s borders and its sphere of influence. The first phase of Putin’s land and power grabs began in 2008, when he attacked Georgia and took over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which he subsequently turned into puppet states. The second phase took place immediately after the 2014 Winter Olympics, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine and occupied the Crimean Peninsula. The third phase began immediately after the occupation of Crimea as pro-Russian terrorists backed by the armed forces of Russia itself, took over much of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. The forth phase has been, of course, Russia’s intervention in Syria. I believe that the next phase in Putin’s quest for more land and power will begin right after the World Cup concludes. Putin does not want to ruin any benefits that hosting the international soccer tournament could bring him, which is why he hasn’t made any further conquests in Europe yet. It’s the same reason he waited until after the 2014 Winter Olympics to make his move on Crimea.
So by the time the World Cup ends and all the teams, fans and media are out of Russia, I suspect that Putin will make another major land grab. But where will he do it? My first guess would be again in Ukraine, where he may move to take the rest of the country’s eastern regions. Another possibility is a move on northern Kazakhstan. Like the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, northern Kazakhstan is predominantly populated by Russian speakers. Hence, Putin could attempt to take over the region arguing that he is simply putting Russians in Russia where they should be. Hitler used the same excuse when he annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia’s Sudatenland before the beginning of World War II. History appears to be repeating itself.