'[Putin is doing] anything that can and will expand Russian influence to U.S.S.R.-era levels of power.'

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<blockquote>'Rove continues: "[Putin is doing] anything that can and will expand Russian influence to U.S.S.R.-era levels of power. Russia is back in the Middle East for the first time since 1972. As well as Ukraine, he is menacing the Baltics and the Nordic countries, and critically, he is willing to tolerate the cost to his country, which is considerable."

He's right. Putin first began to reassert Russian power in the Georgian war of 2008. He followed this, in 2014, by illegally annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. Late last year, Russian forces entered Syria. It's been a heady few years for the Kremlin.

But Russia has suffered considerably as a result of all this adventurism. International sanctions and declining oil prices have combined to pummel its economy. When he began to consolidate his power in the early 2000s, Putin's deal with the Russian people was simple: They would receive economic stability -- and, critically, much higher standards of living -- in exchange for a loss of freedoms. Today, that deal no longer looks sustainable, so a new, unspoken one now lies on the table: In exchange for a (further) loss of freedoms and (now) economic hardship, the Russian people will swell with national pride at a Russia -- once mocked and belittled by the West -- now retaking its rightful place at the center of global power politics. Economic growth is out; chauvinism is in.


On the ground, things appear to be in more disarray than ever. Perhaps most shockingly, footage emerged of Free Syrian Army rebels (FSA), the group with arguably the closest ties to Washington, ordering U.S. Special Forces out of the town of Al-Rai in northern Syria, screaming in the process that "Christians and Americans have no place among us." Hours later, U.S. soldiers reportedly returned to the town accompanied by FSA fighters, and the rebels who led the protest were reportedly "discharged," likely under orders from Ankara.

A 'Net Loss'

All of this suits Russia just fine -- for the moment. The question remains: How long can it sustain its imperial adventures? Rove concluded: "Putin has temporarily succeeded through the popular support of the Russian people, but that will decline after another year of economic stagnation. At the same time, his actions have forced Europe to rethink its energy policy" -- whereby Europe is heavily reliant on Russian gas -- "so at the same time he is also losing customers. Overall, this is going to be a net loss for him."

In the meantime, however, Putin marches onward, with troops still massed on Ukraine's border while he swaggers across the global stage, trying -- ostensibly -- to bring "peace" to Syria while at the same time trying -- ostensibly -- to eradicate the threat from IS. The reality that Russian forces have in fact spent their time in Syria mostly attacking non-IS targets who are hostile to Assad in order to prop up their client is merely the final layer of hypocrisy within which the brutal cynicism of Russia's Syria policy -- especially regarding IS -- is coated.

At a panel discussion at the YES conference on September 17, the former director of policy planning for President George W. Bush, Richard Haass, struck a glum note. "[Former Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev still had to deal with the Politburo during the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis," he told an audience of Ukrainian MPs, foreign diplomats, and journalists.

"But I see no equivalent checks and balances for Putin. In fact, I'm not even sure there is a Russian expression for 'checks and balances.'" '

- Fight Against Islamic State Looks Like A Cover For Russia's Imperial Gamble, September 21, 2016</blockquote>


<blockquote>'What Russia needs today is to learn how to develop steadily .. avoiding wars..' - Yegor Gaidar

'..Putin and the siloviki, like the Bourbons, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing..'

'[Russia] may become a threat to the world. That is the worst thing that could happen to Russia.' - Yegor Gaidar

'..Putin is unacceptable to the world..' - '..Stockholm now considers Russia to be the top threat to Swedish national security..' - 'Russia is still pouring heavy weapons into Ukraine..' - '..[use] all .. tools to help Ukraine..'

'The Hybrid War: Russia's .. Campaign Against Germany .. an "information war." In fact, he says, this is the "primary form of warfare" today.'

'..the Russian parliamentary elections, which breach the international law, call into question the legitimacy of the elected State Duma..'</blockquote>