A back-to-the-future Vladimir Putin has once again reclaimed the Russian presidency, with an overwhelming 63.6 percent of vote in the March 4 election. Russia's strong man is back exactly where he wants to be: Russia's commander-in-chief in charge of the military and foreign and national security policies.
As Putin is celebrating his six more years in the Kremlin, the White House and U.S. State Department have responded by choosing not to congratulate the "new" Russian president. And policy makers and strategists from European capitals to Washington are apprehensive about an assertive Vladimir Putin will exacerbate tensions with the U.S. and Europe as they try to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and halt bloodshed in Syria.
Beijing, however, acted quickly in congratulating Putin on his victory. Chinese President Hu Jintao, in his telegram of congratulation to Putin, assured Putin that China "respects the choice of the Russian people and supports Russia in taking a development mode that fits its own domestic situation."
A victorious Putin is wasting no time in putting together his "Great Russia" road map. In his October 2011 policy paper - "A new integration project for Eurasia: The future in the making," Putin sketched out his strategic view. The fundamentals in Putin's thinking, as Pepe Escobar of Asia Times, summarized, "No war on Syria; no war on Iran; no 'humanitarian bombing' or fomenting 'color revolutions.' For Putin, a Washington-engineered New World Order is a no-go. What rules is 'the time-honored principle of state sovereignty'."
More key essentials for Putin, reports Escobar, include "no U.S. bases encircling Russia; no U.S. missile defense system targeting Russia; and increasingly close cooperation among the BRICS group of emerging powers? Atlanticists will freak out en masse as Putin puts all his efforts into coordinating a powerful 'supranational union' that can become one of the poles of today's world."
Putin's clash with the U.S. and European powers over Syria and Iran also reflects his ultimate frustration with Western powers' "interventionist policy" that, according to Henry Meyer of Bloomberg News, "is reminiscent of so-called 'color revolutions' backed by the West in Georgia and Ukraine. Putin's anti-U.S. rhetoric is linked to the elections but not entirely driven by it - his anti-U.S. stance is also shaped by Washington's policy. Putin in 2004 supported a pro-Russian candidate in Ukraine against the Western-backed opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power after mass protests over election fraud. In August 2008, Russia fought a war with Georgia, a U.S. ally that was seeking to enter NATO."
Vladimir Putin's strategic view, writes Jenia Ustinova and Alexander Kliment of Eurasia Group in New York, is based on "geopolitics in terms of a zero-sum competition with Western, particularly U.S., interests. After four years of a relatively more accommodating stance under President Medvedev, the tone of Moscow's foreign policy toward the West is set to change."
In his zero-sum competition against the West, President Putin has two powerful weapons.
First of all, President Putin can and will use Russia's vast energy resources as his political weapon. Russia holds more than 30 percent of global gas supplies and it was Putin who single-handedly spearheaded the resurgence of Russia as a mega energy superpower during his first two presidencies and his tenure as prime minister. In his recent published article on Russia's military reform, Putin pledged that if elected, he will allocate an additional 2.3 trillion oil rubles-$777 billion-to upgrade Russia's army, air force and fleet in the coming decade.
"The EU relies on Russian state gas exporter OAO Gazprom for about a quarter of its natural gas. Like it or not, the U.S. and European Union will need Russia's cooperation and have to accept Putin's rule," says Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Moscow.
Second, with Putin as the president, the West can expect Russia turning further toward China. "Russia and China hold a significant part of the Eurasian landmass and the two countries are forming a tall wall against Western mischief," hailed Iran's Press Television. Under Putin, "Russia and China," says Olivia Kroth of Russia's Pravda, "will further develop their special relationship with many common economic and military interests."
Putin's third term in the Kremlin perhaps will not doom the West's ties with Russia, but his plan for a "Great Russia" and his determination to defend what he sees as Russia's sovereign interests will for sure intensify Moscow's tensions with the West.
Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of Marietta College's China Program.