Is Vladimir Putin Winning?

President Barack Obama controversially expelled 35 Russian diplomats from American soil in December 2016 Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would not do the same in return

Putin says he does not need to retaliate to Obama because of President-elect Donald Trump’s pro-Russian attitudes Put simply, Putin has the upper hand A few months earlier, Russian Lt Gen Evgeny Buzhinksky claimed the USA

and Russia are now in a new Cold War And it looks like Russia is winning Obama expelled the diplomats because of a series of hacks on the Democrat and Republican parties US

Intelligence services blame Russia for the hacks, and Obama accuses Putin of deliberately undermining the democratic process in America A few weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Putin withdrew from a major nuclear disarmament pact with America Russia says America is trying to undermine its global influence, and ultimately depose Putin But US

-Russian relations have been fraught for the past decade Washington accuses Moscow of supporting and supplying insurgents in the Ukraine The two nations are also opposed over the war in Syria Though Putin claims he is fighting terrorism, the Obama administration says he is deliberately targeting rebels who oppose Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad Russia is also accused of war crimes like attacking aid convoys, civilian hospitals and passenger jets, as well as violating ceasefire agreements

When asked by a reporter why relations between the Kremlin and the White House collapsed over Syria, Putin said: “It is not because of Syria This is about one nation’s attempt to enforce its decisions on the whole world” Molly McKew, an advisor on foreign policy and strategic communications, says America needs to enter a new Cold War in order to curb Putin’s aggression Journalist Jeet Heer says McKew is mistaken – Russia is already at war with America, and has been for years However, McKew may have accurately outlined Putin’s complex strategy

She argues he is destabilising the balance of power, so that nations are no longer aligned with the USA against the former Communist bloc in the east, but against each other – and especially against the USA She says the key to this strategy is information control It’s not propaganda in the traditional sense – instead, the emphasis is on sowing mistrust in western governments State-sponsored internet trolls conduct online campaigns to shut down criticism of Russia and to point out mistakes and crimes western leaders have committed In this regard, analyst Eric Garland notes that America has unwittingly payed into this scheme

In the 1980s, the US armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leading to the creation of al Qaeda and the War on Terror By invading Iraq in 2003 without a plan for peace, NATO and US

-led coalition forces destabilised the region and triggered a civil war Obama himself accused Britain of doing the same in Libya in 2011 The result has been the rise of Daesh and the ongoing war in Syria Consequently, Putin can claim he is trying to clean up the West’s mess Thanks to the openly anti-Russian statements of politicians like John McCain and Presidents Bush and Obama, Putin is able to present himself as the victim of U

S aggression The point is that whether or not you believe him, many people in the West don't know who to trust To this end, Putin has been immeasurably aided by huge security breaches in recent years Leaks from Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have exposed illegal activities by western surveillance

Wikileaks continues to damage the reputations of politicians and intelligence agencies Even the President-elect publicly disdains the intelligence community Meanwhile, crusading journalists like Glenn Greenwald inadvertently do a lot of Putin’s work for him by challenging policies and exposing secrets; and the right-wing press fosters hatred for various subgroups of society The result is that governments look incompetent and criminal, and society is divided over whether leakers are heroes or traitors Deep divisions like these legitimately express themselves in the democratic process, with controversial outcomes like Brexit and Trump

The EU’s borders are shrinking alongside its economy, while Trump openly undermines NATO’s power These happen to be Russia’s publicly stated goals Putin invaded the Crimea when the Ukraine’s new government moved to join the EU Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 explicitly to prevent it joining NATO Then there is Syria, where Putin has successfully stopped the Assad regime being overthrown and replaced with a leadership more friendly to the West

In December 2016, he arranged the most successful Syrian ceasefire yet, began withdrawing Russian forces and initiated peace talks This makes him appear the most effective statesman in the war This strategy exploits the West's open reluctance to commit ground troops, harm civilians or violate ceasefires – something Putin has no problem doing Yet according to Moscow, Putin’s ultimate aim is not to be dragged into prolonged proxy wars or an ever-escalating military stand-off with the West He wants to renegotiate the world order; to set Russia back on equal footing with western powers after two-and-a-half decades of being ignored

So far, his only demands are for NATO and western economic sanctions to be scaled back However, there may be an ulterior motive at work Scholars like Kathryn Stoner and Michael McFaul say Putin is trying to distract his own citizens from domestic problems As the Panama Papers revealed, Putin’s government is corrupt Its electoral is system so rigged in his favour that many accuse him of running a dictatorship

He has an appalling record for repressing gay rights and the freedom of the press, and for assassinating opponents This is not to mention the flagging economy, which is dependent on natural resources like oil, whose value is volatile Since the Russian economy crashed in 1998, economic sanctions imposed by the West have worsened the situation Yuval Weber, Assistant Professor at Harvard University, says the future rests upon Donald Trump The USA’s new President has consistently praised Putin and appointed Cabinet several members who are friendly towards Russia

What’s more, a leaked intelligence report says Russia not only helped Trump win the presidency, but may even hold compromising material on Trump with which they can control him These claims may be untrue, but they nonetheless divide Western society and weaken faith in Russia’s strongest opponent: the US government In the best case scenario, Russian aggression really is a defence against American foreign policy, and Trump’s friendliness will stop the new cold war

But what if Putin is trying to re-establish Russian superpower or distract from his own domestic problems? Well, Weber says Trump’s pro-Russian attitude will simply give Putin free reign to challenge NATO and Europe Russia could expand even further Trump has yet to announce his policy on Russia He may take a more hardline approach than we expect Evidence suggests his presidency will be isolationist, shunning foreign wars and free trade

Journalist Jeet Heer warns that a new cold war is the worst possible idea for America It provides the opportunity for emerging superpowers like India and China to fill the void left by economically isolationist and cold-warring Russia and USA Either way, it looks like Putin is in control

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