By Aaron Newton: Political Columnist
Vladimir Putin is a man who gets what he wants. From the Western viewpoint, he cuts a Mr-Burns-like figure, sitting in his office with tented fingers and plotting world domination. While this may be a Eurocentric biased representation of the man, we can only judge based on previous events. With the release this week of the “Russian Report”, alleging involvement of the Russian government in the 2019 UK General Election and Boris Johnson’s seismic win (a topic which is sure to be pored over by every news outlet and senior official this side of Moscow), it begs the question of why Russia not-so-stealthily interferes with other states in the first place.
To Russia as a former superpower, in the cauldron of chaos we call global politics, power is king. It is a zero-sum game; if someone else is improving and growing, you are shrinking by comparison. This leads to numerous (and often heavy-handed) foreign involvements all over the world.
In Syria, Russia sought to flex its military muscles to the world, and make a bit of money from it, all under the guise of fighting ISIS. Supporting the Assad regime with Russian weapons and airstrikes was one way of doing so: Syria contributed to 10% of Russia’s total arms exports in 2012. Repeated calls for humanitarian diplomacy and negotiation from the United Nations (UN) fell on deaf ears; Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and it wielded its veto like a sickle, creating a path for cash to go firmly into its state-owned arms export companies. It’s just business.
In Crimea, Russia sought what once was lost. Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns towards the majority Russian-speaking populations created an atmosphere ripe for the picking. In the midst of the ensuing protests, the Kremlin illegally sent in unmarked soldiers to capture the Crimean parliament building, and placed Sergey Aksynov as the new Prime Minister. Putin and Aksynov’s party, the aptly named ‘United Russia’, only received 4% of the national vote at the previous election.
In the US, Russia sought an end to its economic drains. The sanctions brought forth by the Obama administration had to go, and in the binary choice of Trump or Clinton, there is only one medium to get this accomplished. Clinton, for her part, had been a thorn in Putin’s side for the last decade in her capacity as Secretary of State and vocal opponent of the regime. Trump, for his part, accepted help from Russian officials with “damaging” information on Clinton. The subsequent FBI investigation into foreign involvement and election fraud showed big Red fingerprints, but not enough of them to tie crimes to Trump himself. 34 lackeys and associates, on the other hand, were charged. Make of that what you will.
It is up for speculation what the Russian document means for the UK and what it means for Russia, but what is clear is that Russia profits from the discord and strife in other states. It is all a game, and one beautifully played by one as experienced as Putin. He has not been scared to mount offensives in the UK previously, as Sergei and Yulia Skripal can attest. The whispers that Russia had involvement in the successful Brexit campaign have grown into shouts. The world is waiting for this report to be uncovered, but it may tell a tale we already know.