Putin is one of the most fascinating and one of the most pilloried of world leaders. The late Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, have described him as a monster, bloodthirsty, a killer, assassin, KGB operative, and other pejoratives. They have even made an issue of him having been a KGB operative and now the President of Russia while ignoring George HW Bush who was the Director of CIA, not a mere operative and later was President of the USA. Fortunately, Putin is impervious to the arrows of insult.
Yet, amongst the leaders of major powers, he alone is able to maintain constructive dialogues with parties at odds with each other. The most impressive accomplishment by Putin in this regard recently being the agreement with Turkey’s Erdogan to defuse the highly volatile conflict in Syria bringing him praise even from the SDF, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces who say Putin saved them, at variance from the same claim by Trump.
With Saudi Arabia at swords point with Iran and Iraq, he is seen conducting on regular basis negotiations with all three. The same for Israel , notwithstanding its differences with almost all Muslim countries. In fact, between 2013 and 2019 Netanyahu made six visits to the United States, Israel’s vaunted ally, and ten visits to Russia!!
While Pakistan and India are always on the brink of war, both do business with Russia and Putin But with Russia being a close friend and major supplier of military hardware to India since WWII Putin is treading a fine line by continuing talks with Pakistan about arms sales. Nevertheless, talks are afoot.
Since 2016 Putin has made 78 visits abroad building ties in Asia, Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. Trump has made 22 visits abroad since being elected, But of those only 13 have been to individual countries, the others to International conferences such as G7 and G20. Especially in the Middle East, Putin has become the GoTo person to resolve conflicts, not Trump or the US representatives.
In Europe, East and West, the situation is more complex. Europe is hostage to the US economically, politically and militarily with NATO. They are even being threatened with sanctions should they move ahead with the Nordstream natural gas project that is the new gas pipeline underway from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany. The US pressure is to force Europe to buy LNG, liquified natural gas from US suppliers and that with the LNG process and shipping cots would make the US LNG much more expensive than that pipelined from Russia. The US argues energy supplies from Russia would make Europe open to Russian pressure without pointing out LNG from the US, in addition to LNG being more expensive, would make Europe subject to US pressure and as we have seen, supplies for anything critical from the US can be held as a political and trade club over the recipient. The objectives, in this case, being two-fold, enrich American LNG suppliers and punish Russia.
One has the impression Macron, Salvini and Merkel would like closer ties with Russia but their dependence on the United States and the constant threat of reprisals from the US should they stray from the bidden US policy line makes it difficult for them to exercise an independent foreign policy. But, to their credit, at least they have held the line for the Nordstream project and maintain an open dialogue with Putin.
Less so with the Anglo American Axis and the UK that has been so reliant on the US and will be even more so once Brexit removes them as a thorn in the side fo the EU. They are following the US Line on Russia with unproven allegations about poisonings, meddling, and other nefarious acts. And one can expect this policy to continue if the Conservatives are re-elected which seems likely.
For America, Putin does have considerable value as a scapegoat for many of the US shortcomings and he is a reliable source of headlines for the US media about some dastardly plot to take down the grid and interrupt Sunday football or meddle in US elections or anything else that goes wrong in the US. It will be interesting to see the election results in 2020 and what role he will have played for/against the Democrats or Republicans because neither of them will want to admit responsibility for a loss and Putin will offer a convenient Russiagate 2.0 following the 2020 elections.