Putin’s politics of uncertainty: How the Kremlin raised the stakes

Alexander Morozov writes: ‘Russia is returning to the political arena as a global player,’ that’s what the commentators are saying today—even those who don’t support Vladimir Putin.

Whether this return is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, whether it’s a threat to the world or not, these commentators are simply stating a fact: Russia has kicked off military operations far beyond its borders. A ‘regional power’ doesn’t have this kind of reach.

Celeste Wallander, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the US National Security Council, calls Putin’s strategy ‘mistaken’, but the tactics ‘brilliant’. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice also finds room for ‘praise’ in her recent, and highly critical, evaluation of Putin’s foreign policy in The Washington Post: ‘The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well’. It’s worth pausing on what that hand has been so far.

Indeed, the calling card of the European press reaction to Russia’s moves over the past year has been the assertion that the Kremlin is strategically weak, but tactically successful.

These assertions are put to Putin too, who sees that his ‘politics of increasing uncertainty’ are bringing results. Earlier this year, observers declared that the Kremlin would have to suddenly change the agenda in order to find a way out from the conflict in Ukraine. This is exactly what he’s done in Syria.

Despite western leaders’ frequent statements that the independent, or even coordinated, participation of Russia in the war against ‘Islamic State’ will not influence their position on Crimea’s annexation or the Minsk accords, it is clear that Putin has made a successful move, and is continuing to play his game.

This game is a bad one, but it allows Putin to stay in motion. We often see figures on the differing resources of the US and Russia, the consequences of falling oil prices and sanctions on the Russian economy. Putin, it seems, doesn’t have the resources to continue raising the stakes. But while this assertion is correct, the timeline is unclear—perhaps seven or ten years of economic sanctions will lead to catastrophic economic collapse in Russia. You can achieve a lot in that time.

At the beginning of his administration, Putin wanted to play the ‘good boy’ in international relations. He was worried by what other people thought of him. Now though, Putin isn’t afraid of earning the reputation of a ‘bad boy’. Moreover, there are now millions of television viewers who, in a world ‘of American hegemony’, believe that anyone designated ‘bad’ is in fact ‘good’, and that all our real enemies are sitting in Washington and Brussels. [Continue reading…]

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