Putin’s Rearguard Battle

Russia's recent diplomatic successes in Syria and Iran, together with foreign-policy missteps from the US, have emboldened Putin in his drive to position Russia as a major world power. But Putin’s recent address to the Federal Assembly was more a reflection of his resentment at Russia’s marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire.

MADRID – Russia’s recent diplomatic successes in Syria and Iran, together with foreign-policy missteps by US President Barack Obama, have emboldened President Vladimir Putin in his drive to position Russia as capable of challenging American exceptionalism and Western universalism. But Putin’s recent address to Russia’s Federal Assembly was more a reflection of his resentment of Russia’s geopolitical marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire.

To be sure, with America exhausted from its fruitless wars in the Middle East, and Europe turning inward as it faces its own crises, the case for a multipolar discourse is more convincing today than at any other time since the Cold War. But this does not change the fact that Russia is a declining power, whose diplomatic triumphs are mere tactical achievements that do not add up to a strategic game changer for the world.

If, as Lenin put it, communism was, “Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country,” Putinism can be reduced to nuclear weapons and oil extraction. In all other areas, the West retains a clear advantage: Russia’s demographic decline, antiquated military forces, one-dimensional economy, low productivity, and chronic internal unrest dwarf the challenges faced by the US and Europe.

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