Putin’s Winning Streak

CHENGDU – Since Russia invaded Crimea last summer, the West has relied on a strategy of economic sanctions and international isolation to compel the Kremlin to withdraw its support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine. But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent series of diplomatic successes – in particular, with Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan – has all but negated the effectiveness of this strategy.

To be sure, Putin was shunned at last month’s G-20 summit in Brisbane, with the Australian hosts and Western leaders berating him in bilateral meetings for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and creating a rift with its Western economic partners. Putin left early, proclaiming that Western sanctions were harming European economies more than Russia anyway.

But Putin was not deterred, proceeding to launch major initiatives with countries of vital security concern to the West, boosting Russia’s diplomatic leverage and enhancing its value to its most important, albeit still coy, partner: China. As Putin declared in a recent interview, his government is committed to ensuring that Russia does not become internationally isolated behind a new Iron Curtain.

With Iran, the Kremlin has launched a joint bank that will enable Russian companies to expand bilateral trade without using Western currencies or worrying about Western financial sanctions. The deal builds on this summer’s “oil-for-goods” agreement, whereby Russia will exchange its own goods for as many as 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil daily.