Will Russia accept Putin’s victories?

The World Cup held in Russia is being currently projected as a victory for the country’s president Vladimir Putin who recently secured a new presidential term. Although it is true that Western leaders have not attended World Cup matches, it is also true that Russia has hosted this major international sports event and has overcome all the expected obstacles.

For instance, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson had threatened to boycott the World Cup in response to the poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. However, the British national team has participated in the tournament, just as any other national team.

It is noteworthy that while Western leaders engaged in petty squabbles at the summit in Quebec, China was celebrating another harmonious summit and Putin was the first man honored there as Chinese leader Xi Jinping awarded him the “Friendship Medal”

Hazem Saghieh

Putin’s successes

Earlier, Italy had bestowed another honor on Putin. Following recent elections, a populist government came to power in Rome — with the ‘Lega Nord’ Party (the Northern League) forging a coalition with the ‘MoVimento 5 Stelle’ (the Five Star movement) whose leaders compete with each other in admiring the Russian president.

At the G7 summit in Quebec, Putin scored three consecutive victories. First, and amid the opposition of his partners, US President Donald Trump suggested that Russia could join the G7 and the bloc could again become G8 (reversing the decision a few years back to expel the country from bloc following its occupation of Crimea).

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Second, the summit witnessed a major fissure emerging within the G7 over Trump’s policies leading to his withdrawal from signing the final communiqué of the Summit. The fact is that every difference between the US and the EU is a net gain for Putin.

Third, there was no action taken over accusations of the Kremlin’s interference in some European elections and the American elections, influence over the UK’s Brexit referendum and its use of several methods like piracy and bribery for achieving these goals. This confirms that the West has come a long way in normalizing relations with Kremlin, although the process is still not complete.

It is noteworthy that while Western leaders engaged in petty squabbles at the summit in Quebec, China was celebrating another harmonious summit and Putin was the first man honored there as Chinese leader Xi Jinping awarded him the “Friendship Medal” to express their flourishing relations. Jinping said President Putin is his “best, most intimate friend.” It is worth mentioning that the two leaders have so far met each other 20 times.

Acceptance of Crimea’s occupation

Meanwhile, Russia’s occupation of Crimea has gained acceptance unless it’s proven otherwise, and it seems the continuance of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is now only opposed by the Syrians.

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These are two major achievements for Russian policy – achievements fulfilled via blatant interferences and occupations.

There is no doubt that the situation of the current American policy and troubled West-West relations have been the main factor behind Putin’s successes.

This does not take the credit away from Putin’s astuteness as he has been able to take advantage of his adversaries’ weaknesses and contradictions. One still wonders whether “the small Russian stomach” can digest these major victories which have taken place in a relatively short period.

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Here we are referring to Russia’s economic conditions, which Putin bets on saving via hosting the World Cup. Russia has spent $14 billion on this event, most of which were allocated for expanding the country’s infrastructure (airports, stadiums and roads) in order to receive an estimated 570,000 foreign visitors as well as 700,000 Russians who are travelling between cities to watch the matches. Therefore, there is reliance that the revenues from this investment are huge and rewarding.

However, a closer look at all this excludes this possibility as the aforementioned amounts do not change much on the long run for a $1.3 trillion economy which is dependent on oil and gas prices and which is also reeling under international sanctions. Thus, those are patient and who have reservations concluded that Putin’s happiness over his victories and successes may not last long.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:57 - GMT 06:57
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.