The rise of Russia

The Express Tribune

A couple of years ago, as Russia battled Western sanctions and the collapse in oil prices, few would have predicted that Vladimir Putin would emerge as the world’s strongest leader. While the United States and Western Europe botched all attempts at strangling Russia, Putin has manoeuvred his country into a position, where it is not just a regional player but a global power.

Domestically, Putin enjoys an approval rating of over 80 per cent. He has weathered the storm (like Pyotr in Pushkin’s Captain’s Daughter) and the Russian economy is expected to grow after a recession that saw a decline in gross domestic product and real income. With respect to foreign affairs, Putin has no rival.

Internationally, Russia marches forward. It has now replaced the US as the most important player in the Middle East, given its success in Syria. What was being described by US President Barack Obama as a quagmire for Russia has turned into an ‘unabashed’ victory for Putin. Even before the new year has set in, Russia, Syria, Iran and notably Turkey have set the stage for a final settlement in Syria that would be in line with Russian objectives and represent the biggest failure of US Middle East policy, second only to the Middle East peace process in recent history. The above success has forced Israel and Arab states to look towards Russia as the new sheriff in town.

In Europe, we are witnessing a tectonic shift against traditional liberal governments. The main rival in the French elections (Marie Le Pen) supports an end to sanctions and normalisation of relations with Putin. While Britain, Russia’s ardent critic, is involved in decapitating itself with Brexit, making the environment within the EU hospitable for Russia. Needless to mention, countries like Moldova, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, etc, are now courting Russia instead of the US. Even Angela Merkel of Germany is facing a precarious future, with centre-left leaders in her country calling for an accommodation with Russia.

The biggest coup in favour of Russia vis-a-vis Europe (edge of Europe), has been Turkey. Erdogan’s apology to Russia, followed by Putin’s defence of Erdogan in a failed coup attempt has brought the two countries close. The shift in Turkey’s policy towards Russia is an achievement for Putin, unthinkable just a year ago. The proof of this bond can be witnessed in the ceasefire agreement signed in Syria, given that Turkey and Russia were supporting opposing sides in the conflict.

However, the ‘Prize’ (borrowing the title of Daneil Yergin’s book) for Putin in 2016 comes in the form of Donald J Trump. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (T-Rex), was given an ‘order of friendship’ award by Putin in 2013. The former National Security Adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, has been an open supporter of Putin and his policy against the Islamic State. Trump himself has showered Putin with praise in multiple interviews, and the two leaders have made statements indicating a reset in Russia-US relations.

Unable to swallow their own failure and the success of Russia across the Atlantic and in the Middle East, mainstream Western media has kicked into overdrive to malign Putin and have launched a vicious propaganda campaign.

First came the doping allegations, where Russia was portrayed as the country that invented doping (forgetting: American Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong). Add the FIFA corruption story to the mix, where the former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, claimed to be the victim of a proxy war waged by the US against Russia. However, both attempts failed to achieve their objectives as the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, refused to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics and Russia will be hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Next is the propaganda of Western mainstream media, an example being their coverage of the Syrian conflict. The world has not forgotten that it was the US that invaded Iraq on the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and fighting al Qaeda, to capture valuable oil resources. A war that has led to the death of well over a million people. Whereas Russia has liberated Syria from the Islamic State, with a death toll less than half of that of Iraq. It is quite ironic to see the same media outlets, now talk about ‘fake’ news. I guess the WMD story peddled by the New York Times was true: the weapons are at the bottom of the oil pit, they will discover them once they have sucked out all the oil.

After anti-Russia propaganda on Syria, came the claims about ‘Russian hacking’ and how Putin stole the US elections. We must remind ourselves of the American fugitive Edward ‘Chekov’ Snowden, who has taken asylum in a foreign country after revealing how the US was hacking the whole world.

Lastly, according to Hillary Clinton, she lost the election due to the letter sent by FBI director, James Comey, to the US legislative body that informed them about the re-opening of a criminal investigation into the Hillary email scandal. Also, some of her campaign staff claimed that they lost the elections because Trump provided a platform to white supremacists. And now we hear that she lost the elections because of Russia. So which is it? James Comey or white supremacists? Or Russia? It is noteworthy that according to US officials, Russia did not hack the voting machines but only the email of one Clinton staffer John Podesta through a phishing attack. Also, the hacked emails that were released were real and showed that Clinton and the Democratic National Committee cheated Bernie Sanders out of the primary.

Thankfully, recent history has shown that this farcical attempt by the media, can’t change reality. This decade might well belong to Putin.