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Dissecting Putin’s Geopolitical Chess Game

Putin, El American

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After the launching of the “Truman Doctrine” in 1947, the United States and the then-Soviet Socialist Republican Union (USSR) dominated world diplomacy. These were the times of the dynamics of the so-called “Cold War”, which ended up with the collapse of the USSR in 1989 during the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev.

In the first years after the fall of the USSR, Russia under the government of Boris Yeltsin did not disappear from the international arena, but only experienced a withdrawal marked by the loss of old domains such as the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), which was followed by Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya and more than thirty small states that are called “ex-USSR” countries, mostly located towards the Baltic Sea and Asia Minor.

But Yeltsin’s Russia did not disappear completely as it was a nuclear power with great damage capacity and therefore represented a potential threat to the USA and the rest of the world. In addition, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power, so Russia did not leave its former rival to have a free hand on the world stage.

Thanks to this, Yeltsin was able to obtain important financial aid that was urgently needed by Russia, because its finances were dwindling, its industries were obsolete and unproductive, it needed resources to insert itself under the capitalist model, as well as to face the wars with its former neighboring allies that were demanding independence.

The veteran and ex-communist Yeltsin, who ruled the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999, was followed by Vladimir Putin who established a strong hegemony in the country, including the brief parenthesis of the puppet government of Dmitry Medvedev (2008 – 2012). Basically, the Putin era has been a sort of gradual return of Russia with a more active and leading role in the world arena, marked with a highly aggressive style, after overcoming the strong economic crisis of the 1990s.

One of the first milestones in that process was the war in Georgia, where Putin ordered an invasion in 2008, leaving a trail of blood, destruction and pain in its wake.

However, it is not only that, but Putin is also actively participating in the Syrian conflict supporting Bashar Al-Assad, reaching its climax in 2014 when Russia impassively annexed Crimea before a practically useless international community.

With all of this, Russia got consolidated. It came back and became a highly powerful actor within the international community, to which extent must be added its leverage under the nose of the USA during the Obama administration, when Chavez opened the Caribbean country to closer diplomatic, commercial and even military relations, with the sale of Sukhoi planes, T-90 tanks and thousands of Kalashnikov type assault rifles, not to mention the return of its old partner, the narco-regime of Cuba. In addition to having become the main supplier of gas to none other than the European Union itself, thus nullifying its capacity to operate against its geopolitical targets, such as Ukraine, for example.

Thus, what we are seeing today is not something new or improvised, nothing could be further from the truth. It is the consolidation of a Russian foreign policy that, in the face of the West’s neglect or inattention, is opting for a more active and leading role that evokes the times of a glorious and powerful Russia that began in the times of Catherine II. Precisely, this reappearance of a defiant Putin occurs after Russia has been overshadowed in recent years by the rise of China. 

In the midst of this sort of twilight or flicker of Russian diplomacy, Ukraine took the opportunity to advance its initiative to join the European Union and even NATO, both projects considered unacceptable by the Kremlin because they constitute a threat to its security.

Evidently, Russia is not only determined to block the Ukrainian project, but Putin is also upping the ante towards the annexation of the rest of the Ukrainian territory, which is why he threatened to send troops to Cuba and Venezuela, in case the European Union moves forward in talks with the Ukrainian government. On the other hand, Washington has described Russia’s recent threat as a “bluster”, statements that were issued in the framework of NATO-Russia talks.

To conclude, we have to say that the meetings between NATO and Russian military leaders are a dialogue of the deaf and are therefore a futile effort to try to stop Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. Additionally, we remind you that every war has its victims.

While it is true that it is a geopolitical war, it will have a very certain outcome in the immediate future with the death of Ukraine as an independent republic. An action that will take place in the short term, taking advantage of the state of disarray in the White House with the Biden-Harris administration and the weakness of the European Union. 

The West would find it less harmful if Russia were to annex Ukraine than if it were to establish military bases in the heart of the Caribbean, which would be “checkmated” by Putin.

Nahem Reyes is a PhD in history from the Andrés Bello Catholix University and associate member of the American Studies Center of the Central University of Venezuela. // Nahem Reyes es doctor en Historia de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello y miembro asociado del Centro de Estudios de América de la Universidad Central de Venezuela.

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