Putin on world strategic chess board

Shaheen Masud

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has won another six-year term extending his term in office by quarter of a century till 2024 becoming the longest serving Russian ruler after Stalin. This resounding victory is a vindication of Putin’s policies and endorsement of his assertive role on the international horizon for political, economic and military resurgence of Russia under his vibrant leadership.
While challenging the unipolar world order, and US decade old strategic global predominance, Putin is all set to bring about Russian renaissance and unfold a new international paradigm with resurgent Russia. The political chaos, economic woes, loss of identity and prestige had been degrading for the Russian masses who see Putin as the iconic figure of the nation. The other factors which have been contributing towards fulfillment of Putin’s dream and ambition is rooted in its domestic politics and revival of economy, with a GDP of USD 1283 billion and industrial growth of 3.39%, driven by its increasing oil revenues. As Russia revitalises its economy, it is endeavoring to play a more assertive role on international horizon. European reaction to Putin’s resounding victory has been sharply divided, although there is a consensus on continued sanctions against Russia after invasion of Ukarine. Terming Russia as “a difficult partner” and questioning the fairness of elections, German Foreign Minister regretted that the region of Crimea annexed from Ukarine four years ago had been included in the election. The reaction in France is equally ambivalent. There are sharp differences over approach to many issues ie Russian annexation of Crimea, its involvement in Syria,its use of chemical weapons and Russian support to unpopular Syrian regime at the UN.
It is critical of ongoing sanctions imposed on Russia for annexation of Crimea, with the contention that it is detrimental for bilateral trade. The already existing tense relations between UK and Russia have recently become more strained. Britain had strongly opposed Russian annexation of Crimea, its intervention in Ukarine and Syrian adventure and strongly supported tough UN and EU sanctions on Russian economy. Recently the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal a former Russian spy and his daughter has plunged the relationship in deeper chaos. British PM terms this act as a chemical attack and use of force against Britain. Resultantly, Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats. It has proactively garnered support of 27 countries round the world including US, leading to the expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies.
US relations with Russia under Trump show incoherence and ambivalence with Trump having a soft corner for Putin and consistently praising him. His latest telephonic conversation congratulating Putin on his success and extending an invitation to him to visit the US has baffled the Administration and US Establishment. Significantly, Administration’s policy is in sharp contrast to Trump’s pro-Russia stand. US Defence officials view Russia as a significant threat to US. Gen John Hyten who leads US strategic command in a recent speech expressed that Russia ‘poses the only existential threat to the country’.
The political and military establishment in Washington perceives Russia as a revisionist power and as a threat as outlined in recently published National Security Strategy.(NSC} and National Defence Strategy (NDS). US academicians and analysts like Dug.E Schoen in his recent books ‘ Putin’s master plan to destroy Europe, divide NATO, restore Russian power and Global influence, and “Putin on the March” have manifestly postulated that Putin had an overarching plan to divide Europe, destroy NATO achieve regional hegemony and marginalize US by keeping it confused and divided to pursue his own brand of ‘Tsarist authoritarianism”. To achieve this end Kremlin is using hybrid tactics. These include pressure, intimidation ,show of force use of propaganda , cyber war, support of the dissidents, disinformation and appeasement. There is a clear contradiction between Trump’s words and actions and reaction of the executive and national security branch manifest by an arms deal with Ukarine, imposition of sanctions on Kremlin , recent expulsion of 60 Soviet diplomats and closure of Russian Consulate in Seattle.
Putin’s overwhelming victory in the recent elections also has far reaching implications for South Asia. Russia under Putin’s strong leadership is a reemerging power aspiring for regional hegemony in Eastern Europe and South Asia after almost two decades .It clearly recognizes the centrality and geopolitical weightage of India with whom it is tied up in a number of bilateral agreements in defence, trade, business, economic cooperation. However over the past few years Pak-Russia relations have improved as a reaction to warming of Indo US relations. Pakistan’s enthusiasm stems from its security needs, technology transfer in scientific / research field and access to Russian markets for exports. Russia finds Pakistan as an important market for arms export. Hence Islamabad and Moscow are increasing both military and economic relations in the wake of changing regional and global politics. They have signed a deal for sale of Mi-35 helicopters, a gas pipeline deal between Lahore and Karachi for 2 billion.
There is a serious consideration in Pakistan to make Russia a part of China-Pakistan Economic corridor Increased ties between Russia and Pakistan add another important dimension to the present geopolitics, it will be important to see the future trajectory of these developments. Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan is manifested by its business investments and financial military support to the Central govt. It has shown flexibility to work with Taliban , as it is felt that their interests coincide when it relates to defeating ISIS which has a growing presence in northern and eastern Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to reorient their options to take advantage if immense potential that exists in Russian resurgence. Sino Russian relations have evolved from a marriage of convenience into comprehensive strategic partnership grounded in geopolitical realities and convergence of interests in economic, diplomatic and security, without any formal alliance. The main driver is to counterbalance the US global influence and hegemony. Russia under Putin is determined to regain its “superpower” status and is emerging as a strong contender to challenge US authority in global affairs and transform the world canvas from unipolar to multipolar world .It is aiming to be recognized as an indispensable actor in regional and global affairs. Russian renaissance is seeking to establish new power centres, political and economic blocks to end US hegemony.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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