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12th February 2018

Big, bad Vlad

Putin has re-directed Russia onto the path of becoming a formidable and threatening world power
Big, bad Vlad
Photo: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office @ Wikimedia Commons

It has almost been 27 years since the USSR collapsed and Russia, as we know it today, emerged onto the world scene. It was in the year 2000 that Vladimir Putin took power as president of the Russian Federation. Under his leadership, Russia has changed dramatically, and the crises that plagued Russia in the post-Soviet era have been tamed to large extent.

Since coming to power, Russia has risen once more and, while it is not the superpower the USSR once was, Putin has made it, once more, a serious actor in international politics. His interventions in Syria and Crimea have shown he is willing to take risks to counter the military might of the USA and the emerging economic power of China. Putin’s actions have greater implications for us in Europe and the Western world than many of us care to admit.

Russia under Putin is a very different country to that which many commentators predicted would emerge in the post-Soviet new world order. Under Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, Russia seemed to be heading in a pro-European and Western direction.

However, when Putin took office, though it initially seemed as if the trend would continue — Russian even seeming to tolerate NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe —, it has become clear how wrong the world was.

Putin has made Russia more nationalistic, confrontational, and militarily aggressive. As mentioned, under Putin, Russia has become involved in numerous foreign conflicts including Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Syria. His policies at home have entrenched his position as he controls various government institutions.

Unlike countries like the USA and the UK, whose governments faced a huge public backlash against their involvements in conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, Putin has, in fact, gained popularity and support from the Russian population. Russia’s annexation of Crimea on the 18th of March 2014 created a massive sense of pride and nationalistic sentiment within Russia and Putin became the figurehead for it, and further entrenched his own control over Russian society and politics.

Despite the sanctions being placed on Russia by the international community, Putin has remained a popular figure within his country. In 2015, Russia began direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime and as a result, Assad is likely to remain in power, whereas, at the beginning of the uprising, he looked certain to fall.

Now, any solution to the Syrian conflict requires Assad. Again, Putin faced criticism on the international stage, but at home, his popularity has surged, and the fact is, whether you like it not, Putin has achieved his goal in Syria and has kept Assad — a close ally — in power.

The fact that Russia has probably interfered in the American presidential election in 2016 shows how much has changed under Putin. It shows Putin has confidence due to the USA’s lack of global leadership in recent years and is challenging American global dominance. The fact that Putin is at the negotiating table in Syria’s peace talks — unlike Trump — shows how confident he is on the world stage.

Putin’s policies abroad have entrenched his position, despite Russia’s sluggish economy, and it is likely that he will win the re-election as president in March by a landslide — ignoring the fact he will probably rig the results anyway —, meaning that the international community will have to get used to another six years of Putin in power.

If the Russian economy further stagnates, it is likely he will take even more risky steps with his foreign policy, meaning more instability in Europe and the Middle-East.

For Europe, Russia’s return to aggression and military build-up is a worrying development. Putin and many in Russia see the European Union as a threat to Russian interests, especially a united one under the influence Germany and France. Putin’s actions in Crimea are a message to Europe not to expand or integrate any further as Putin knows that a united European Union is the biggest threat to Russia in recent years and is probably more of a threat to Russia than the USA.

Russia’s alleged funding of nationalist and anti-EU parties, like the National Front in France and the Freedom Party in Austria, are another signal of how far Putin is willing to go to block further European integration and expand its power.

Despite Putin’s famous topless photo-shoots, Vladimir Putin is not a joke. Russia’s aggressive foreign policy stance and America’s gradual withdrawal from the world stage have allowed Putin to take advantage and attempt to re-establish Russia’s foreign influence.

Russia’s interference in the US elections in 2016 and other European elections is a threat to liberal democracy across the world and Putin is threatening the Western dominance of the world from multiple angles. From Syria to Crimea, Russia’s creeping new influence and confidence are alarming many in neighbouring countries like Estonia, Finland, and Ukraine. Putin’s Russia is a threat to the stability of Europe and we better get used to another period of Russian interference in European affairs.

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