Russian President Vladimir Putin has every reason to be proud of himself. He is a master of high geopolitical games. Moscow’s influence is more widespread than ever, possibly even greater than at the height of the Cold War, when Moscow was the capital of the Soviet Empire and vying with Washington for global dominance.
In the American presidential campaign, for the first time ever, a candidate openly quoted Putin as a model to follow, while in past decades, Russia, in its Soviet incarnation, was just the great enemy against which the United States should prepare to fight.
At the Vatican, some Catholics on the fringe praise Putin and blame their Pope for the present state of the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Pope is keen on improving ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, making up about half of all Christian Orthodoxy. Therefore, for the first time since the Byzantine emperors, the Oriental Orthodox Church has gained some kind of a political-religious foothold in Rome (see: http://www.atimes.com/popes-soft-power-vs-putins-war-religions-china/). This is extremely important as the Holy See is growing a geopolitical soft power and it is assuming a broader role of peacemaker.
On both fronts Putin appears also as a better embodiment of some theo-con theories calling on Christian values, in a certain tradition personified by the Pope, to cement the western resolve against rising ambitions of Muslims and Asians. Putin has thus moved Russia as an anchor of western civilization and no longer as some kind of Asian outpost of the West, as it was with the USSR.
In Europe, the UK—possibly Putin’s archenemy—seems determined to leave the EU. In this way, the UK could harm both the EU and itself (the pound and real estate are getting hit, while Scotland is determined to break off to stay in Europe). The EU in fact could be undermined by the Brexit in itself, and the inspiration other countries may get from the Brexit, as growing voices in individual European countries see the EU as the cause of, not the solution to, their political and economic ills. The disintegration of the EU would destroy the single largest social, economic, and political barrier to Russian geopolitical extension westward and thus re-open Moscow’s ambitions in the Continent.
Russia has also made vast inroads in the Middle East. It has good ties with Israel since cooling in the late 1940s, and it is the main support of the failing Assad’s regime in Syria. In fact, Israel is keeping out of the Syrian mess, and the US is getting bogged down by its past failures (the war in Iraq and failed revolutions in Libya and Syria), its interest in pulling out of the region (Middle Eastern oil is no longer strategically so important), and contradictory aims (Is it allied with Turkey, or the Saudis, or Qatar? What does it do with Iran?). This has left a lot of room for Moscow, which has thus become one of the main powers in the fragile balance of the region.
China looks to Russia as a way out of its possible isolation in the Far East after the US Pivot to Asia and the growing agitation in the region about Beijing’s new assertiveness. Beijing is also warming to the idea of having some kind of military alliance with Moscow after a more than 50-year freeze. In this way, Putin might reach with Beijing what Khrushchev failed to get in early 1960s. But this is not Moscow’s only bet in East Asia, as it was in the early 1960s. With Japan, Russia is talking of an eventual agreement on the thorny issue of the Kurili Islands, controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo. With India, it is strengthening its military ties, and selling Delhi its newest weaponry.
All these geopolitical successes, though, are possibly very weak, because behind them there is a failing economy. Last year GDP shrank by 3.7%, and a devaluation of about 50% against the dollar has failed to rekindle the economy. Most importantly, the largest part of Russia’s economy depends on the export of oil and raw materials, whose prices are dropping and will not grow in the near future. Oil and gas are increasingly abundant in the world, with new reserves being discovered almost daily, and energy-saving technologies are growing cheaper and more sophisticated by the day.
Therefore, in the foreseeable future it is unlikely a price hike in gas and oil that could replenish Moscow’s coffers, and thus the performance of the Russian economy is bound to have more problems. Meanwhile, between 2005 and 2015, the share of the state in the economy doubled, from 35% to 70%, and arguably this means the economy is less efficient, because the state in general and the Russian state in particular, is less capable of optimal allocation of resources and investment than private enterprise.
In this way, the economic growth of Russia would help the economic growth of the rest of the world and it could become the physical terrain where Asia, Europe and America could meet and build common interests for development. In this, Russia would not be alone as China, many Asian countries and the rest of Europe are already keen on re-developing the New Silk Road initiative launched by Beijing. This of course needs a daring change of direction internally and willingness to become more international, an exchange station between different states and nations and not an extended fortification extended over the northern glacial borders of the Eurasian continent.
Full article: Russia can only survive as a global Eurasian bridge (Asia Times)