Editor’s Note: As Stratfor readies to look forward in coming days at the implications for Russia — and its leader Vladimir Putin — in the downing July 17 of a Malaysian jetliner, we also invite readers to take stock with us of past forecasts of Russia’s geopolitical evolution in the context of global events. Stratfor Chairman George Friedman will examine the likelihood of Putin’s undoing in the next issue of Geopolitical Weekly, to publish July 22. Accordingly, we look back here at 1998, when we predicted the unfolding Kosovo crisis would be the undoing of late Russian President Boris Yeltsin. We share our assessment from 2000, when we assessed how newly elected President Putin was rapidly consolidating absolute power. In 2005, Stratfor reassessed Putin’s situation after his first presidential term and laid out how his leadership would begin to reverse the tide of concessions and reassert Russia’s role in line with historical cycles — including the forging of strategic relationships with countries such as Germany. In 2008, we looked at how Russia would capitalize on American weaknesses, including the fatigue of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011, we foresaw the next stage, as Russia moved to solidify its sphere of influence while still able. In this forecast, we saw the events setting the stage for today’s crisis in Ukraine. Now, we foresee more historical change. We offer this chronology of forecasts in advance of our next report on Russia’s future.
Kosovo Crisis Sets Template for New Russian Politics
During the Kosovo crisis, as Russian politicians rallied to challenge NATO intervention in Serbia and found a new source of unity, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin found himself isolated.
Oct. 15, 1998: One voice that has been relatively weak has been that of embattled Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Though he declared his firm opposition to NATO strikes on October 9, Russia’s nationalists and communists have claimed that weak Yeltsin leadership allowed the U.S. and the West to assert hegemony. Yeltsin is even losing control of national policy regarding Kosovo. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin was forced to rebut Defense Ministry statements on the issue, claiming only Yeltsin and the Foreign Ministry could make official policy. Kosovo may be Yeltsin’s undoing, as it has united and revitalized his opponents.
In Russia, Putin’s Power Almost Absolute
Following Boris Yeltsin’s December 1999 resignation, Vladimir Putin became acting president and then president in 2000.
Dec. 27, 2001: Two allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Russia’s most influential business lobby on Dec. 21. That was followed by a live, national call-in program Dec. 24 — broadcast via television, radio and Internet — in which Putin fielded questions from his countrymen for 2 1/2 hours. Taken together, these events signal Putin has nearly finished consolidating his economic, political and social control and is now better positioned to hammer the few resistant elements into line. With newfound political stability, the president will set about implementing reforms passed in 2001 and begin crafting a new raft of reforms in 2002.
Former Soviet Union Net Assessment 2005: Unilateral Concessions to the West Are Over, Reaction Has Begun
July 15, 2005: In this era, there have been two different phases. The first — a phase of outright geopolitical retreat by Russia and the FSU’s other states, with no real attempts to resist outside powers’ strategic penetration — started in 1991 and appears to have ended by 2004 or 2005 at the latest. Currently, the second phase is starting, as regional powers — led by Russia — begin a strategic response to the recent decline and to outside powers’ increasing influence. The attempts to reverse the tide started after Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for his second term last year.
Russia and Rotating the U.S. Focus
With the United States entangled in wars in the Middle East and South Asia:
April 1, 2008: Russia has taken advantage of the imbalance in the U.S. politico-military posture to attempt to re-establish its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. To this end, Russia has taken advantage of its enhanced financial position — due to soaring commodity prices, particularly in the energy sector — as well as a lack of American options in the region.
Russia: Rebuilding an Empire While It Can
Oct. 31, 2011: U.S.-Russian relations seem to have been relatively quiet recently, as there are numerous contradictory views in Washington about the true nature of Russia’s current foreign policy. Doubts remain about the sincerity of the U.S. State Department’s so-called “reset” of relations with Russia — the term used in 2009 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a reset button to her Russian counterpart as a symbol of a freeze on escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington. The concern is whether the “reset” is truly a shift in relations between the two former adversaries or simply a respite before relations deteriorate again.