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Mona Alami

Obama and Trump: Putin's Russian dolls

"Russia's economic travails did not hinder its international ambitions" writes Alami [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2017

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Comment: In contributing to Donald Trump's victory, Putin is guaranteeing Moscow a like-minded American counterpart, writes Mona Alami

As President Barack Obama leaves the Oval Office on 20 January, experts and pundits will remain divided over his controversial legacy.

Yet consensus will prevail around Russian President Vladimir Putin, who masterfully played the 44th US President in order to bolster his relevance on the international scene.

In 2014, Russia was in tatters, the decline in the price of oil and western economic sanctions against the nation following its invasion of Ukraine weighed heavily on the nuclear power.

Structural economic problems and the collapse of the Russian rouble had severely damaged the Russian economy. Russian Gross Domestic Product ( GDP) had contracted so much it that Russia lost its ranking as the world's eighth largest economic power, with the Land of the Tsars boasting the same economic weight as a smaller European nation such as Spain.

In comparing with the US, Russia's GDP was below that of California.

Russia's economic travails did not hinder its international ambitions. Less than three years later, Russia managed to project its influence through the US Power Center in Washington, as well as in the Arab region where it became an unavoidable power broker.

How did Putin, beleaguered by many economic challenges and a recession, manage this feat? He placed his bets strategically, using limited resources to influence important international dossiers.

Putin has shown he is able to shape political outcomes in the US capital and the Arab region alike.

In Washington he interfered in the US presidential election to aid presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to a declassified assessment by the NSA and CIA.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the agencies found.

  Read More: Russia, the rival superpower?

The Kremlin's assault on US democracy took the form of steady leaks of stolen communiques, trolling Hillary Clinton on social media and promoting multiple conspiracy theories that created doubt around the US democratic electoral process.

In contributing to Donald Trump's victory, Putin is guaranteeing Moscow a like-minded American counterpart. Trump has numerous times stated his admiration for Putin and showed willingness in lifting international sanctions.

According to a recent article published by Reuters, quoting an interview with the US president and The Times of London, Trump will propose offering to end sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Moscow.

Russia could not have been successful without President Obama's overall inability to pursue a coherent strategy

In Syria, Putin has proved Obama wrong, with a policy the US president repeatedly rejected, and which relied on a limited use of force to tilt the balance of power in favor of one faction over the other.

In the last few years, military and intelligence experts such as David Petraeus, among many others, have attempted - to no avail - to convince the president to use US air power, and to beef up support to rebels, forcing the Assad regime towards a political settlement.

Five years on, Russia has achieved exactly that. With a budget of less than $2 billion a year, massive Russian air support to the Assad regime backed by foreign forces from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq managed to expel the rebels from much of Syria's urban centers. At the behest of Turkey and Russia, they are now being forced to sit for a peace negotiations in Astana.

Russia could not have been successful without President Obama's overall inability to pursue a coherent strategy in the Middle East, his weakness in dealing with the Assad regime, and his constant flip-flop on whether the use of chemical weapons constituted or not a red line.

His objections to the use of diplomacy or military might to challenge Iran's hostile activities in Syria have only further exacerbated sectarian rivalries, across a region on the verge of a meltdown.

Today, Putin has shown he is able to shape political outcomes in the US capital and the Arab region alike.

Whether through intelligent spy wars, the savvy use of social media or timely military deployments, Putin has proven his capability to impose Russia's influence.

Regionally, many countries appear to be sensitive to the winds of change, as Arab countries, Iran, Israel and Turkey are vying for the ear of Moscow to discuss the future of a region engulfed in instability.

Mona Alami a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic council covering Middle East politics with a special interest in radical organizations. Follow her on Twitter: @monaalami

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

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