United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, which laid out the map of a peace process in Syria, crowns a year of risky gambles for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Most of these played out badly for ordinary Russians, but Putin himself appears to have improved his international standing after an ugly 2014, carving out a clear -- though not necessarily enviable -- new role for Russia in world affairs.
In 2014, Putin became a near-pariah. After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the leaders of what used to be the Group of Eight decided to cancel a meeting in Sochi and agreed to hit Russia with weak but humiliating economic sanctions. The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution stating the annexation was illegal, and only 10 countries -- including North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Sudan -- backed Russia by voting against it. China and India abstained, though, and Putin decided he could pivot toward his partners in Asia, demonstrating that "the West" and "the world" are not synonyms.
Russia also signed some long-term energy deals with China in 2014, but they fell short of forming a solid anti-Western alliance. The crash of a Malaysian plane in eastern Ukraine, apparently shot down by Moscow-backed rebels, made things worse. A Moscow-approved Ukraine cease-fire didn't work. At a Group of 20 summit in Australia in November, other world leaders shunned or snubbed Putin, who had ordered Russian warships to approach Australian shores ahead of the meeting, and he left early.
Putin wanted his views and interests to be heeded. Instead, he got contempt and a measure of fear, a combination that wasn't much better than disregard. So in 2015, he set out to improve his global standing with a series of bold moves.
Putin now has a good chance of improving his strained relations with the EU, UK, USA and the UN, by cooperating with international military efforts to defeat Daesh in the Middle East.
He now has the largest military presence in the region and a successful alliance involves cooperation with the international forces, so that they can successfully coordinate their efforts. This means eliminating Daesh’s captured oil well revenue while significantly degrading the death cult’s military strength.
However, if Putin continues to treat those objectives as side issues while he operates unilaterally to bolster support for Bashir Assad’s murderous regime, the risks of chaotic and ineffective strategies in the Middle East will continue, along with the potential for further clashes.Back to top