Shunned by the West, the Russian President is looking for allies elsewhere
Just before Christmas, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Defense Ministry Board, an event he described as “taking place at a very important time in the country’s life” as “the special military operation continues.” His presentation centred on Russia’s hardening demarcation from the West.
Putin, speaking to his country’s military elite and more broadly to its citizenry, described how Russia once “wanted to be part of the so-called civilised [Western] world”, and “after the collapse of the USSR, which we allowed to happen, we somehow thought that we would finally become part of that so-called civilised world.”
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However, he says this project failed “despite all our efforts and attempts, including my own, as I also worked on this.” Putin purports that Russia now faces an existential threat from the West and their Ukrainian allies, asserting that “the goal of our strategic adversaries is to weaken and break up our country” because “they believe our country is too big and poses a threat”.
The Ukraine invasion and the West’s support for Kyiv saw a marked shift in Putin’s rhetoric. As Russian forces were rolling on Ukraine, he scorned the NATO “military machine” and deemed the United States the “empire of lies” in his television address to the nation. He attacked the West for stoking chaos wherever they intervened, citing Serbia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria (without mentioning Russia’s own questionable military interventions). Decisive action in Ukraine was therefore necessary, he argued, to prevent Russia from becoming NATO’s next victim.
Yet, Russia’s invasion has quite clearly not gone as planned, with blunder, miscalculation, and an underestimation of Ukrainian resistance characterising the campaign. And now, over ten months into the “special military operation” — which was originally intended to achieve swift results — it has become a bloody war of attrition.
As Moscow more frequently refers to the US and NATO countries as the “other” and the “collective West”, Putin is reorienting the country’s image as a Eurasian power, forming closer ties with nations such as Belarus, Iran, and China. That is likely why the Russian President accused the West of denying “the sovereignty of countries and peoples, their identity and uniqueness, and tramples upon other states’ interests” at Valdai International Discussion Club in October. He then railed against Western-centrism, explaining that the “majority of the population is concentrated in the east of Eurasia”:
Ukraine has become the site of a highly destructive war. Russia looks to violently coerce Ukraine into its sphere of influence or else batter the country into a weakened dysfunctional rump state. And while it is difficult to predict how any of this will ultimately play out, the seeming trajectory of Russia’s future is moving away from the West and towards Eurasia. Putin made this clear at an October conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, where he described “major changes taking place in global politics and economics” with the world becoming “truly multipolar, with Asia playing a prominent, if not key, role as new centres of power emerge.”
Putin left himself little alternative to build new alliances after his decision to invade Ukraine. But whether he can spread Moscow’s political influence and bolster economic relations with more neutral and receptive nations in the East and Global South is another question entirely. So far, most countries have preferred to maintain a safe distance from either side; until a result from the conflict becomes clearer, it is likely that won’t change.