In just 30 sublime minutes, it managed to do what the West has failed to do since ISIS pranced on to the global stage two years ago: Russia produced a piece of propaganda to rival ISIS’s tweeted and vlogged barbarism; it allowed a glimpse of the civilisation that it might just be worth fighting for – a sight, amid the ruins of antiquity, of the heights to which humanity can soar. In itself, it was majestic; in context, awe-inspiring.
The reason, that is, why Russia has emerged as the force most likely to roll ISIS back. Western states don’t lack the means to fight; they lack a sense of what it is they’re fighting for. To Russian ears, a concert in Palmyra resounds with the strains of a long tradition of cultural achievement; to Western ears, it only rings hollow. That’s why Europe and America’s war on ISIS has been so two-faced, with fist-pumping rhetoric about battling ISIS as this ‘imminent threat to every interest we have’ on one side, and, on the other, shady deals with ISIS-facilitating states such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia, and a deep-seated unwillingness to commit troops on the ground.