Stars be­gin to align for Putin

Ad­mir­ers, in­ter­na­tional al­lies ris­ing to power

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Held at diplo­matic arm’s-length for years, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is piv­ot­ing back to cen­tre stage as his ad­mir­ers and in­ter­na­tional al­lies rise to power, a move that an­a­lysts say the Krem­lin will be quick to ex­ploit. Most no­table among newly-elected lead­ers is Don­ald Trump, who on the cam­paign trail loudly pro­claimed his es­teem for Putin and met with a round of Krem­lin ap­plause in re­turn.

In Europe, France’s pres­i­den­tial pri­maries saw for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Fran­cois Fil­lon, who fa­vors closer re­la­tions with Moscow, be­come the rightwing cham­pion for next year’s vote. And in Rus­sia’s back yard, pro-Moscow can­di­dates Ru­men Radev and Igor Dodon have tri­umphed in pres­i­den­tial polls in Bul­garia and Moldova re­spec­tively. These elec­tions show how Putin’s stand­ing has surged, said in­de­pen­dent an­a­lyst Maria Lip­man.

“Rus­sia has been able to con­sid­er­ably strengthen its po­si­tion on the in­ter­na­tional scene, and its leader has be­come at­trac­tive in the world,” she said. Putin, she said, is rid­ing an “anti-es­tab­lish­ment” trend, al­though un­like fig­ures such as Trump or Radev, he “has been putting this po­lit­i­cal course into prac­tice suc­cess­fully for a very long time.”

“Lead­ers who reach out to less ed­u­cated peo­ple, who speak against the es­tab­lish­ment, against glob­al­iza­tion... are be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar,” she said. “Putin fits very well into the im­age of such a leader.” A for­mer KGB of­fi­cer, Putin has been a bo­gey fig­ure to many on both sides of the At­lantic. He found him­self os­tracised af­ter the March 2014 seizure of Crimea, which prompted Euro­pean and US sanc­tions that hit Rus­sia’s econ­omy hard.

Then, in Septem­ber 2015, he be­gan a bomb­ing cam­paign in sup­port Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad-a ruth­less move that prompted ac­cu­sa­tions by western coun­tries and watch­dogs of com­plic­ity in war crimes. To­day, much of this crit­i­cism has been muted, an “ev­i­dent” sign of strate­gic suc­cess, Lip­man said. Putin has en­sured that As­sad’s depar­ture is now more or less off the ta­ble and Rus­sia has gained a strong bar­gain­ing po­si­tion on other is­sues as a re­sult.

But Putin’s gains have also come as a re­sult of fum­bling by the United States, which has made Rus­sia sud­denly look like a vi­able part­ner, an­a­lysts say. “The warm re­cep­tion for Putin is mainly the flip side of anti-Amer­i­can­ism and a de­sire to leave a unipo­lar world, a yearn­ing to find a new bal­ance in the world,” said com­men­ta­tor Kon­stantin Kalachev.

Euro­pean jit­ters

The Euro­pean Union, which had al­ready been weak­ened by the grow­ing power of pop­ulist na­tion­al­ist move­ments, suf­fered a se­ri­ous blow from Bri­tain’s June ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship. Trump then sent shock­waves through Euro­pean cap­i­tals by ap­pear­ing to ques­tion US com­mit­ment to NATOthe al­liance that has un­der­pinned western Euro­pean se­cu­rity for nearly seven decades.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, one of the stronger pro­po­nents of Rus­sia sanc­tions who is up for re­elec­tion next year, has al­ready ex­pressed worry for Trump’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Putin, and ob­servers say the EU’s main France-Ger­many al­liance would be strained by dif­fer­ences in at­ti­tudes to­ward Putin if Fil­lon wins. “For Putin it makes more sense to ne­go­ti­ate with an out-of-bal­ance Europe,” Kalachev said. “It’s eas­ier to reach sep­a­rate agree­ments.” Wash­ing­ton’s global au­thor­ity eroded “af­ter a num­ber of ma­jor in­ter­na­tional errors,” said Lip­man. A di­vided and wor­ried Europe “plays into Putin’s hands” by frac­tur­ing Western sol­i­dar­ity, she said.

MOSCOW: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, right, chairs a Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing in the Krem­lin. — AP

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