President Putin’s announcement that he is pulling back from Syria should not have come as a big surprise. He believes he has met most of his goals there—many of which have nothing to do with Syria itself. Russia has found a way back to the table where the world’s board of directors sits and resolves regional conflicts together.
The Western political establishment is hostile to Russia. This makes it all the more important to demonstrate that the Western religious establishment is more sympathetic. Regardless of Putin’s aims, the meeting between Pope and Patriarch has become a landmark event in the history of Christianity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly accused the United States of upsetting the strategic nuclear balance by deploying a missile defense system in Europe, but closer examination of the facts reveals a more complex picture.
The goal was to return to the club where the destiny of the world is being discussed, not as an ally (because given the current economic disparity, one could only be a subordinate ally) but as a “partner”—a word that is invariably spoken in Russia with phonetic quotation marks: a disobedient, sometimes blunt neighbor with whom considerations of the world order must be shared.
In the middle of a prolonged confrontation with the West, Russia cannot revive its Western-oriented or Eurasianist foreign policy concepts. In foreign relations, crisis-avoidance mechanisms must be the priority while Russia seeks a new strategic concept. That rethink must be underpinned by domestic reform; otherwise, the Russian state could share the fate of the Romanov regime in World War I.
A first strike with nuclear weapons in a conflict between the great powers is bound to be catastrophic. At a time when speculation on nuclear weapons use has increased Russia and the United States should restate their commitment to the nuclear war prevention on which they had agreed in the Cold War era.
Vladimir Putin takes advice from three distinct groups of foreign policy ideologists who can be labeled warriors, merchants, and pious believers. Each of them serves a role, but they have very different views of how Russia should develop.
In Syria, as elsewhere, Russia is acting according to a system whereby it escalates a crisis so as to claim a role in the world and challenge “American leadership.” This pattern of behavior dangerously simplifies the complexities of world politics. When one intervention ends, Russia is forced to look for a new one.