Almost anywhere in the world where the United States is pushing back against a despotic or rogue regime – from Iran, Syria and North Korea to Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Sudan – Russia has made no secret of its efforts to step in and provide a lifeline to the other side.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin upped the ante, following a failed February summit between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, by hosting talks with the Chairman. While the Kremlin insisted that they are by no means attempting to undermine Trump’s diplomatic efforts, many geopolitical analysts argue it’s all part of a broader Putin power plan.
“What Putin is trying to build is nothing short of an authoritarian axis, or a group of like-minded states that all share one goal: trying to damage or dilute US power and influence all over the world,” Harry J. Kazianis, policy expert and the director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, told Fox News.
According to James Carafano, Vice President for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, its first and foremost a quest to hollow U.S. control over the situation.
“Putin is the ultimate scrounger. He is always looking for ways to show he is relevant and a key player on the international stage. Russia and North Korea have had a relationship for decades, and if there was game-changer that they could have pulled off, they would have done that a long time ago,” he said. “Russia’s embrace of dictators helps advance its own strategic interests, not least of which is countering U.S. regional goals.”
While nothing concrete seems to have stemmed from the Kim meeting itself, with many critics labeling it a show of hot air and optics, many contend that this is merely a piece of a potentially dangerous puzzle. Although still steeped under hefty U.S. sanctions and a troubled economy, Russia’s distinction as a permanent member to the U.N Security Council – thus its potent ability to veto resolutions that would otherwise hold rogue regimes accountable for their misdeeds and crimes against humanity – is a ticket highly coveted by leaders under fire to retain power.
“For Putin, the meeting underscores Russia as a great power, as well as having a long and deep relationship with North Korea,” said John Wood, analyst and author of “Russia, the Asymmetric Threat to the United States." “Sticking it to the U.S. over its inability to get a deal done is merely icing on the cake.”
And while Russian foreign policy staunchly centers on the notion of sovereignty and the idea that outside countries should stay out of meddling in internal affairs, it also perceives itself as a mediator and broker of peace in places like Syria, Afghanistan and possibly Venezuela if the U.S. gets its wish in driving Nicolas Maduro out of power.
But it is not only outlier governments that Russia has routinely propped up. The Kremlin too has aligned itself with various rebel factions, including the likes of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which Moscow in recent years came to consider a national security ally fighting burgeoning threats such as ISIS coming closer to its doorstep.
Then there is the matter of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine and support of separatist fighters elsewhere in the bordering country, of which the U.S. and much of the international community has rallied vehemently against, yet Russia has remained resolute in digging its heels in for the long-haul.
Other experts also view the incessant Russian involvement against U.S. positions as an image issue. While it has been almost 30 years since the Cold War came to an end and the Soviet Union crumbled, the quest to climb back into the ranks of global power status is one that defines Putin’s ambitions and cements his popularity in the homeland.
“All of these political decisions are a form of Russian nation building. This is Russia's desire to show its importance in the geopolitical sphere. It’s really a post-Soviet search for identity and the construction of Russia as a player on the world stage,” noted Vitali Shkliarov, a Russia-U.S. political analyst. “This is not a play or a desire to start a war, but rather a pathway to greater importance. Of course, a major tool in this plan is the distortion and destabilization of the West in order that Russia will not appear like a failing or collapsing state.”
Dan Hoffman, former CIA Chief of Station and Fox News contributor, concurred that Putin himself is deeply “nostalgic” of the Soviet era and has set about white-washing history books, but also pointed out that not all interests between the U.S. and Russia are out of sync.
“We have lots of interests which are in common such as counter-terrorism and arms control,” he said. “But for Russia, it is a zero-sum game. When the U.S. is strong, Russia is going to feel weak.”
Yet whether or not Putin’s apparent long-term plan of global supremacy will come to fruition, is yet to be determined.
“Moscow has undertaken a major military modernization project that has shifted the balance of military power in key regions – undermining American security and increasing the chances America will confront a military conflict we could struggle to win,” said Brad Bowman, Senior Director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Putin’s success or failure will depend primarily on how the U.S. and our allies respond. If we restore U.S. military supremacy, strengthen our alliances, and reassert American international leadership, I am optimistic. If not, we could find ourselves in costly conflicts we could have prevented.”