Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

khrushcheva114_KenzaburoFukuharaPoolGettyImages_putinxisittingangrily Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool/Getty Images

When Leninists Overreach

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have for years flexed their foreign-policy muscles and consolidated power at home. But Russia and China now appear increasingly isolated on the world stage, and the question now is whether they have finally gone – or soon will go – too far.

MOSCOW – Ongoing street protests in Hong Kong and Moscow have no doubt spooked the authoritarian duo of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Moscow protests, the largest in many years, must be keeping Putin up at night, or they wouldn’t be dispersed with such unabated brutality. Yet rather than hold a dialogue with the people, Putin has been demonstrating that he is in control, even preening for photos in a tight leather outfit with his favorite motorcycle gang.

Nonetheless, the demonstrations have become a poignant sign of Putin’s declining popularity, including among Russian elites, whose views matter in ways that other forms of public opinion do not. For two decades, the Russian elite’s rival factions have generally seen Putin as the ultimate guarantor of their interests – particularly their financial interests. But as Russia’s economy has sunk into sanctions-induced stagnation, Putin’s leadership has started to look like more of a roadblock than a guardrail. Fewer and fewer Russians still accept that “Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin,” a mantra that one heard regularly just five years ago, following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

Moreover, Putin’s hope that US President Donald Trump would improve relations with Russia has begun to look short-sighted, if not downright delusional. Although Trump has weakened American institutions and undermined Western alliances, which has played into Putin’s hands, the White House has also rendered US foreign policy utterly unpredictable. Worse, the Trump administration is now systematically unwinding the arms-control accords that long brought some degree of certainty to nuclear affairs.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/tjYiDhE;
  1. fischer163_action press-PoolGetty Images_natoflagsoldiers Action Press-Pool/Getty Images

    The Day After NATO

    Joschka Fischer

    French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism for describing NATO as brain dead and pursuing a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But now that a wayward America could abandon the continent at any moment, Macron's argument for European defense autonomy is difficult to refute.

    7