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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Geopolitical Gifts Mask an Economic Dilemma for Putin

Geopolitical Gifts Mask an Economic Dilemma for Putin

by Justin Burke
As Russia prepares to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has many reasons to be pleased this holiday season. Russia, after all, has received an abundance of geopolitical gifts over the past year. But for all the bounty that Putin reaped, Ded Moroz did not deliver the New Year’s present that the Russian leader really needed – a vibrant economy.
In foreign affairs, Putin certainly had a very good year in 2016. Most notably, the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president sowed uncertainty in the West, paving the way for Russia to assert its political interests and social agenda on a global scale. Things went so well that even Estonia – a Baltic state and NATO member that traditionally views Russia as a bogeyman – installed a coalition government in late November led by a Moscow-friendly prime minister.
The string of geopolitical successes, which includes Russia’s Syria gambit and a rapprochement with Turkey, makes it clear that Putin’s personal brand of illiberalism, dubbed sovereign democracy, is ascendant. Meanwhile, Western liberalism appears tired and in disarray, unable to adapt fast enough to the Digital Age, in which any dumbass with a smartphone can spread hate, lies and confusion.
But all is not well with Russia. Behind the façade of renewed greatness, there is a very soft underbelly – one that Putin has been ignoring during all his presidential terms and his stint as prime minister. While Putin’s Kremlin has focused in recent years on projecting Russian power abroad and advancing its concept of “traditional,” i.e. anti-liberal values, the Russian economy has been tanking.

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