Vladimir Putin’s Russia Goes Global
By Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss
Former President Barack Obama once dismissed post-Soviet Russia as a mere “regional power,” but that isn’t how things look today. Vladimir Putin has gone global in recent years, launching a Russian-style charm offensive in far-flung locales where the Kremlin’s influence had been all but written off. Russian voices, fingerprints and footsteps have been showing up over much of the Middle East and Europe, parts of Africa and even in Latin America.
Moscow has found numerous openings and is busily exploiting divisions within the Western camp. The agenda is straightforward: to assert Russian influence at the expense of Washington and the rules-based international system that the U.S. has built and led since World War II. The Russian tool kit includes undermining democratic governance, stoking ethnic and religious tensions, and building new outposts for gathering intelligence and projecting military power. Where the U.S. and its partners have pulled back or failed to deliver, Russia has eagerly stepped in.
Mr. Putin can point to a string of successes in recent years. Russia’s brazen meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has triggered the worst American political crisis since Watergate, leaving President Donald Trump consumed by investigations (to say nothing of Mr. Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and enthusiasm for Mr. Putin, which have eased Russia’s way). In Syria, Russian bombs, arms and boots on the ground turned the tide of the civil war and saved Mr. Putin’s bloodstained ally, Bashar al-Assad. Even the resounding defeat of Marine Le Pen, the pro-Russian candidate in France’s recent presidential election, was a reminder that no country in Europe can dare to ignore the risk of Russian interference in its domestic politics.
But these are just the most familiar cases of Mr. Putin’s growing reach. Elsewhere in the Middle East, Moscow has used arms sales, disinformation, intelligence operations, diplomatic footwork and plain old hard power to further its agenda. In recent weeks, Mr. Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan —who has taken a decidedly autocratic turn and distanced his country from its NATO allies—have reportedly been finalizing a $2.5 billion deal for Turkey to purchase an advanced Russian S-400 air-defense system.