Putin Wins Election But That Means Absolutely Nothing

Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential election which is something that didn’t surprise anyone with the reading comprehension above the third grade. What does it all mean? Not a whole lot and certainly nothing new.

Russia will continue to be belligerent in Syria and Eastern Europe while trying to expand their influence in the Middle East and even Africa. The most alarming rhetoric came from Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov who accused American forces in Al Tanf, in southern Syria, of training units for sabotage with miniature chemical weapons concealed as cigarettes. This is obviously to justify any use of force by the Russians against the U.S. but it also lays the groundwork to deny any future use of chemical weapons by Bashar Al-Assad.

Of course Putin’s election win doesn’t change the tense reality on the ground in Syria. America still controls, in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces, everything east of the Euphrates and has made it clear it has no intentions of budging from the small garrison near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders at Al-Tanf. Turkey, against Russian wishes, took the Kurdish Syrian enclave of Afrin by force using Russian controlled air space in northern Syria. For supposedly “winning in Syria” Moscow is now even more contained geographically.

The defensive rhetoric is to be expected from Gerasimov; that’s his job. However, the truly alarming signals by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was at a Putin campaign event on March 15th when he said this to a group of young Russians in Sochi.

“President Putin outlined the reasons behind the deep crisis in international relations in his Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1. I will not dwell on them. The gist of what is happening is the categorical refusal of the United States and its Western allies to accept the fact that the 500-year-long Western domination in international affairs is coming to an end.”

About as subtle as a battle ax.

Lavrov went on to say.

“This is not criticism or condemnation, but a statement of fact. They are used to the fact that they call the shots. This was particularly evident at the time of the demise of the Soviet Union, when they started talking about the “end of history,” meaning that from now on only a liberal way of life and Western liberal international politics will be the only ones applicable in the modern world. This has failed to materialise. The West has been nervously responding to Russia’s return to its legitimate position, which we inherited from our thousand-year history, the conquests of our ancestors, and they absolutely and rightfully belong to us. The return of Russia as an equal partner who is not imposing anything on anyone, but that will not take diktat and ultimatums from its partners, either, is very painfully taken by our Western partners. There’s no need for that, because we are not seeking confrontation with anyone. We want to work with everyone honestly, based on mutual respect, and the search for a balance of interests and generally acceptable approaches”

Glad to see Lavrov isn’t criticizing or condemning those that brought modernity to the world. He’s just stating Western liberalism is in decline and there’s nothing that can be done to stop or reverse the trend. Sounds more like a fantasy being sold to young Russians than an actual assessment of what’s happening in the world. Russia wants to appear as if they’re consolidating power to preserve what’s left of the liberal order, what reductionist might call “Christendom”.

Lavrov goes on:

“So far, sadly, we are nowhere near this harmony, but it is necessary to make every effort to avoid falling into the abyss of confrontation. Russia is proposing a positive agenda that is aimed at consolidating, rather than isolating anyone, aimed at peaceful settlements to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine, as well as the numerous conflicts in Africa and any other place in the world, based on international law and the UN Charter, through a dialogue between all sides involved and encouraging peaceful steps by every participant to a conflict.”

 

In Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq Moscow invited Turkey and Iran to coordinate in Astana extending not a single invitation to a Western power. There’s Lavrov’s words and then there’s Russia’s action. The two don’t reconcile.

Turkey could, in theory, open inroads for the US and Moscow to cooperate to provide stability, that’s precisely why they were made a NATO member — to balance out Russia, but that has failed to materialize. And with Turkey blowing past Moscow in Afrin the new and improved relationship between Turkey and Russia could sour. We could see Moscow rushing to deal with the White House in this limbo period between Tillerson and whomever is to replace him.

Putin’s election doesn’t change any of these facts it just made the public examine them a little more than they usually would. While America doesn’t say much about foreign policy these days the action are clear. While the US shows no sign of aggression towards Russia in Syria America isn’t going to simply walk away from 15 years investment in the region. It’s time for Moscow to show some flexibility.