Joseph K. Grieboski, "The soft-power brilliance of Vladimir Putin," thehill.com
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is globally acknowledged as a war hawk, known for the type of driving military campaigns that led to Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its military support of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. A lesser-acknowledged aspect of Putin's tactical maneuvering is his mastery of soft-power tactics, influencing Russia's global perception as a power to rival the United States.
In spite of a period of relative calm in Russia's military policy, Putin continues to subtly shape global events and consciousness through his actions. In late August, Putin granted a two-hour audience to a group of students from Eton, Great Britain's prestigious secondary school which has produced 19 prime ministers. While the details of the meeting remain elusive, it appears that the students discussed world events with the Russian leader, including British-Russian relations. While such moves are not unprecedented by world leaders, Putin caused a stir by meeting with a group of British students before granting such an audience with new Prime Minister Theresa May.
One of the students, David Wei, said on his Facebook page, "Guys, we truly gave Putin a deep impression of us and he responded by showing us his human face." Another of those present, Trenton Bricken, said on Facebook: "Two hour meeting with President Putin. He was small in person but not in presence." Putin appears to be making an attempt to depict himself as a more amicable leader, embracing the opinions of young people from across the globe.
Putin's interactions with foreign governments present far more serious implications. After the attempted military coup to overthrow Turkey's government this July, Putin "reset" relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, distancing himself from earlier tensions over Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet near the border with Syria, and removing some of the accompanying sanctions imposed on Turkey.
Putin, in return, gains the alliance of a NATO member-state, weakening the bonds of the alliance that he has threatened to destroy. The coming together of two nations, both of which bear strong anti-Western sentiments, presents a daunting threat to the U.S. and its allies. Should Turkey join with Russia and China in a military bloc to rival NATO, the ensuing showdown could rival the Cold War in scope, presenting a very real security threat the West as well as a challenge for global supremacy.
While Putin has refused to intervene militarily in the ongoing civil unrest in Egypt, he has shown no hesitation to authorizing the sale of arms to Egypt's military, returning to their Cold war-era supplier. No longer reliant on the United States to provide them with the means to fight, this commercial bond presents Putin with an opportunity to deprive the U.S. of a strategic regional partner and draw Egypt back into its sphere of influence.
These non-military maneuvers on the part of the Kremlin present a daunting possibility of the decline of the United States as a global hegemon, as Russia steps in to fill a void that the West has left vulnerable with the decline in executive execution and congressional funding of American public diplomacy.
The global balance of power appears to be reaching a decisive point. Either the U.S. will return to earlier models of diplomacy in order to reclaim its global hegemony, or else the position of power will be usurped by a militant Russia. Should the latter occur, the U.S. and NATO will face dire security threats, rivaled by an anti-West military power that is allied with much of the world, and that is skilled in conventional, unconventional and cyber military tactics and one that has already interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
While Putin has not recently declared an invasion or mobilized troops, he is certainly hard at work shaping global relations to suit the will of Russia. Soft power is still power, and wielded by a strategist such as Putin, can move governments and non-state actors to put Russia in a position of power such as it's never held before, and one which would come at the expense of American hegemony.
Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.