It can be said with some admirable clarity that the United States has not seen a figure step onto Russia’s political stage with Putin’s charisma and statesmanship since Khrushchev banged his shoe on the podium at the United Nations General Assembly in the 1960s. Vladimir Putin has — beyond the frustrations of those who would see him vanish from the political sphere — remained a very real and clear voice of leadership in the Russian Federation.
The Soviet Union’s dissolution made clear the victor of the Cold War, but make no distinction here that Vladimir Putin does not wish to return to the post Second World War status quo. Not only would these be the fantastical and overtly ambitious dreams of a country incapable of achieving them, but something that simply not even the Kremlin wants realized. No, the Russian Federation of the 21st century is not attempting to revitalize its older self. This is a new Russia. This is Putin’s Russia.
Russia hosted BRICS, the economic organization comprised of the emerging economies of Brazil, India, China and South Africa. This organization is chartered by nations that understand the dilemma of an international economy dominated almost entirely by the West.
“[BRICS] augurs the formation of a new world, in which the West will not dominate,” the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov said in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta last week. These nations are still fighting to find their footing in a world economy that Western nations long ago dug their heels into.
Putin’s economic emphasis isn’t a recent development either. Since 2001, Russia’s GDP has grown sixfold despite Putin citing that “Western sanctions” are the primary reason for Russian hardships and less than anticipated economic growth.
His desire to see the Russian economy continue to grow, Putin negotiated a deal that was miraculously favorable to Iran, the Russian Federation and the United States. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed last week in Vienna, Austria, is a deceptive political win for Putin’s Russia. Not only did he satisfy the desire of President Barack Obama and the other members of the UN Security Council, he created an environment that would lead to Iran’s purchasing more conventional weaponry from Russia.
Between 1991 and 2010, Russia sold $3.4 billion worth of conventional and experimental military arms to Iran. Now that Iran has agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and decommission or convert several of its factories, Iran’s only viable step will be to increase the purchase and import of more modern weapons from Russia.
More alarming to citizens of blatant expansionism are Putin’s recent injunctions to intervene in both Crimea and the Ukraine. Though condemned by many world leaders—especially within NATO—Crimea’s annexation was seen by Putin as a “compliance with international law, including Article 1 of the UN charter,” which deals with self-determination of all peoples.
Now, the Ukraine — the former breadbasket of the now defunct Soviet regime — stands on the brink of ruin or perhaps a forced union with its Slavic big brother. Debate between whether Russia is actively participating in the Donbass region are still unconfirmed, but one would be wise to, at minimum, accept the idea that Putin would like nothing better than to see the Ukrainian people—who more than one third prefer Russian over their own native tongue — embrace Russia and “willingly” seek entry back into the Russian Federation.
There is reason yet to fret over these curious political maneuvers made with Putin at the reigns. Many see potential Russian involvement in the Ukraine as a sort of miniature military exercise. A dusting off of the weapons of war that Russia was once made famous for in years past. In his keynote speech at the beginning of this year, Putin said this of the Russian military: “Russia has the capabilities and non-standard solutions [to fight]. No one will manage to gain military superiority over Russia.”
Ranked the most powerful man in 2013 and 2014 by Forbes, Putin is a character not easily discerned by his contemporaries. A former KGB officer for almost two decades, he understands the nuances of the more sinister side of geopolitics and military affairs. A statesman, he’s served as president as well as prime minister and been in the spotlight and relevant positions of power so long as to be considered by some to be “serving for life.”
The full intentions of Putin’s Russia cannot be made clear yet, but what is clear is this — Putin seeks to restore Russia’s prominence on the world stage. He has mastered the strings perfectly thus far, carving intricate friendships with the likes of India and China and kept a solid — though distanced — friendship with America and her NATO allies. The gravest mistake the United States can make — whether by Obama or his successor — is to treat Russia now as they once treated her before, as an ideological rival.