Russian President Vladimir Putin was furious following the late-November destruction of a Russian war plane by Turkish fighter jets over Syrian airspace.  The Russians had been bombing “terrorist” positions inside war-torn Syria since September.  Less than two weeks before the incident, Putin thought he had reached agreement with his Turkish counterpart, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, on some contentious issues, including Ankara’s complaints that Russian war planes had been violating Turkish airspace.  The Russians gave signals to the West that Moscow would not overreact to what Putin called a “stab in the back” by the Turks (Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that “We are not going to start a war with Turkey”), but publicly warned of dire consequences if such an incident were repeated.

Putin, according to Ekho Moskvy radio’s Aleksey Venediktov, sees the world as divided among “friends,” “enemies,” and “traitors.”  Putin, Venediktov maintains, will deal with an enemy, but not with a traitor.  Following the downing of the Russian Su-24 war plane, and the killing of one of the Russian airmen (who ejected over Syria; a Russian marine was also killed in a rescue attempt) by Turkish-backed insurgents engaged in fighting Russian ally Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army, Putin reclassified his former friend Erdogan as a traitor.  The situation was tense and dangerous, as Turkey is a NATO member.  A shooting war between Turkey and Russia would mean a Russia-NATO clash.  Thus far, the players have avoided such a clash; Erdogan subsequently said he regretted the Su-24 incident, though he stopped short of the apology Putin demanded.

Before the Su-24 incident, Putin had strengthened his position internationally.  Moscow’s late-September intervention in Syria had been condemned by the West, and Russia has suffered from economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States as a consequence of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and support of the separatist insurgency in Eastern Ukraine.  Russia’s initial Syrian air-bombardment campaign was ostensibly aimed at the Islamic State (ISIS), but was actually an attempt by Moscow to break out of international isolation.  Most of the Russian air strikes were not directed at ISIS, which controls a substantial amount of Syria’s territory, but against the Syrian rebels fighting Assad, including Turkmen rebels supported by Ankara.  Russia’s aims included bolstering Assad, weakening the rebels, and forcing the West into negotiations over Assad’s future and the participation of Russia in a broad antiterrorist coalition that would take on ISIS, something Putin proposed in his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly.  Russia would thus achieve her aim of becoming an equal partner with the Western great powers and perhaps engineer a deal that would exchange Russian cooperation on Syria for Ukraine.  (Moscow wants sanctions lifted, Ukraine to stay out of NATO, and at least a de facto acknowledgement that Crimea is Russian.)  The Russian bombing campaign in Syria fostered a growing perception around the world that indecisive Western leaders had been outplayed by a determined Putin.

The destruction of a Russian airliner by terrorists affiliated with ISIS over Sinai (killing 224 people, mostly Russian tourists) in October and the November Paris terrorist attacks were followed by a change in tone by Western leaders, who were notably warmer toward Putin after those incidents.  (At one point, President Obama even described Putin as a “constructive” player internationally.)  Putin, after all, had publicly proposed an antiterrorist coalition, had warned for years of the dangers of creating power vacuums in the Middle East (by ousting Saddam in Iraq and targeting Assad in Syria), and had pointed out the dangers associated with the “migrant/refugee” flow into Europe.  The leaders of the West, with egg on their faces, were anxious to calm their own people—and to appear to take decisive steps to deal with the terrorist threat.  Moscow and Paris intensified air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, while French President François Hollande initiated a series of meetings with world leaders on forming an antiterrorist (read: anti-ISIS) coalition.  Hollande’s whirlwind schedule included talks with Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a trip to Moscow to meet with Putin.

The Kremlin had hoped to capitalize on the reaction to ISIS-linked terrorist attacks and form an international coalition, while achieving its own strategic aims.  Nevertheless, even with the turmoil in the Middle East increasing the flow of largely unidentifiable “migrants” and “refugees” into the E.U. countries (at least one of the terrorists who killed 129 people in Paris was a “Syrian refugee”), further threats being made by ISIS, and a rising political backlash from European nationalist parties taking shape, it appears that the West is not yet receptive to Moscow’s realpolitik approach.  Washington has made it clear that it is not, at least for now, interested in a Syria-Ukraine swap.  Even Hollande, who has lobbied the hardest for cooperation against ISIS, has not backed down on anti-Russian sanctions.  Moscow has, since the onset of the Ukraine crisis, expected the West at some point to negotiate a balance-of-power arrangement based on geopolitical interests.  Surely, the West would not see Moscow and the Ukraine crisis as greater threats than ISIS, collapsing borders, and Europe being overwhelmed by “migrants”!  Wouldn’t the prospect of an Islamified Europe bring the E.U. leaders to their senses?  But Putin, it appears, has grossly underestimated the role of ideology in shaping the West’s approach to Moscow and to the migrant and terrorist threats—in fact, neither Brussels nor Washington sees either of the latter two as existential threats.

The official narrative, as shaped and presented in Western news media, casts a neo-Stalinist Putin as an international threat on par with Hitler or Stalin.  The Kremlin, seen through the prism of related strands of postmodernist, globalist, and “cultural Marxist” ideologies, is a roadblock on the way to a borderless, egalitarian utopia.  After all, there are no “gay pride” parades allowed in Moscow.  And Moscow’s atavistic insistence on national sovereignty is positively retrograde.  The West (as represented by NATO, the European Union, and the United States) is pressing tyrannical regimes in the Middle East to carry out democratic reforms.  ISIS is simply a group of renegades and is not representative of “real Islam.”  Fear of “migrants” and “refugees” is bigotry, and probably a cause of terrorism, which, in case we didn’t get the point the first time, has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.  Europe is a geographic expression, whose continued existence is not dependent on the preservation of the European people or civilization.  The West can and will act to make policy corrections, including temporarily reinstating border controls, tightening security and surveillance at home, and bombing ISIS.  The problem will eventually be controlled and, thus, manageable.  The march to utopia must continue.  Calls for national sovereignty, foreign-policy realism, and a perspective on Islam that is informed by history will be dealt with as heresy, betrayals of “European values.”

So what would a sane approach to the issues discussed above look like?  The real threat to the West is not represented by Russia or Assad, or even ISIS, but the prospect of being overwhelmed demographically in a period of one of history’s great migrations, in this case south to north, and conquered by self-confident peoples who are, in the case of Muslims, bolstered by a religious faith that justifies their conquest of a decadent and declining civilization.  Islamic terrorism and the development of Muslim enclaves in Europe and the United States are but symptoms of the Western elite’s inability to see the demographic threat for what it is.  Putin has been largely correct in his analysis of the Middle East crisis, is ready to support those on the ground in the region who are willing to fight ISIS (Syria and Iran for starters), and wants to make a deal with Washington and Brussels, avoiding a clash with NATO.  Based on concrete interests, there is no reason not to try to make a deal with Moscow.  In the face of the real threat to the West, the bombing of ISIS is a distraction, a move meant by Washington and Brussels to divert the attention of their electorates from the more fundamental issue of the continued existence of national states and the peoples that made them.  In that sense, Western globalist elites are much more fearful of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump than they are of ISIS.  If Western nations have the willpower to secure their borders, deport dangerous Muslim “citizens,” and halt migration, ISIS would largely be a regional threat.

The West’s real war is ideological and metaphysical in nature, pitting currently scarce common sense, patriotism, and recognition of natural law against leftist utopianism and nihilism.  Suicidal ideological rot runs deep, evidenced by the decline in Christian belief, collapsing birthrates, the erasure by redefinition of our understanding of marriage, the apparent intentions of “Eurocrats” to continue to accept “refugees,” and postmodernism’s denial of objective truth.  There are signs of populist revolts in Europe and the United States, but nothing short of a Christian revival can truly secure any populist victory.