Putin’s Great Game: Strategy on Three Fronts 

Translated by Marco Aurelio Di Giorgio


La Stampa

The sparks along the border with Ukraine, the violent battle for Aleppo, and the reconciliation with Erdogan’s Turkey describe the determination with which Vladimir Putin is building a new ambitious international asset around the Russian Federation.

It’s an offensive which develops on three fronts. The first: the fibrillation with Kiev along the border of Crimea, including the shipping of S-400 missiles, which clearly demonstrates to Eastern Europe that Moscow remains a protagonist in the region, determined to safeguard the rights of the russophile population, in no way intimidated by the deployment of NATO troops along its borders decided by the recent meeting in Warsaw. 

The second: the intensification of the Aleppo offensive, with heavy raids against the areas held by islamic anti-Assad rebels, which describes the will to make the Baath regime prevail in the civil war, staking a claim on the transition in Damascus, that is, the future balances between the great rivals in the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

The third: the reconciliation with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indispensable interlocutor on Syria due to his support to Islamic rebels, which allows to identify Turkey as an economical and political partner on the greater picture of Eurasia, in spite of its belonging to the Atlantic Alliance. If we look closely at these fronts we can see that Putin is intent on reducing United States influence everywhere possible: in Ukraine he wishes to weaken Washington’s credibility as guarantor of Eastern Europe, in Syria he aims to demonstrate a greater military capacity against the jihadists than the coalition of more than 60 countries lead by Obama, and in Turkey he aims at weakening Ankara’s ties with NATO, exploiting to such end even Erdogan’s irritation for the presence in Pennsylvania of the supposed author of the failed military coup of the 15th of July, Fethullah Gulen. 

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What benefits Putin in this Great Game, in which the epicenter is the Eastern Mediterranean, is the image of a West torn apart between contrasts regarding immigration and terrorism, economically weakened and ultimately lacking in leadership due to the prevailing of movements of protest, as demonstrated by the Brexit referendum. The ambition of Putin of creating an international asset no longer rotating around the West is outlined by Fëdor Lukyanov, esteemed Muscovite analyst, according to whom “Putin and Erdogan both felt emarginated from Europe’s projects following the Cold War” and share a wish for redemption which, according to Russian politologist Maxim Suhov, includes the “rediscovery of Eurasia” due to converging interests in countries such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. 

More generally Putin is building a network of privileged links with nations governed by models different from Western democracies – from Belarus to Turkey, from Egypt to Iran up to the ex soviet republics of Central Asia – overlapping energetic investments, military presence and the projection of a quite effective Russian ‘soft power’, as demonstrated by the popularity of the ‘Russia today’ television in the arabic world. The Cremlin knows, however, that this phase of strategic expansion risks getting stuck with the end of the Obama mandate: whoever the successor will be will have a less submissive approach to the international scene and Moscow fears particularly Hillary Clintons’ success as her candidacy expresses the will of the bipartisan establishment of Washington to reclaim the ground lost in these years. 

What Putin wants to avert is the repetition of one of Moscows’ greatest mistakes during the Cold War, that is what happened in 1980 when Jimmy Carters’ America looked so weakened by the crises in Iran, Afghanistan and Nicaragua to make the Cremlin think it had given in while instead Ronald Reagans’ victory changed the course of history, determining the opposite result. This is why Putin keeps himself on the offensive, and Russia’s profile is destined to grow pretty much everywhere, even in the Central Mediterranean, as demonstrated by the choice to openly oppose the Sirte USA raids, supporting the general Khalifa Haftar, adversary of Fayezs’ rule in Tripoli.

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