For the United States, Russia is the focus of mixed emotions. In more informal media, it is the source of great humor over their tough-as-nails, vodka-drinking stereotypes. Other times, the country, and specifically its leader, Vladimir Putin, get attention for being nefarious underdog competitors of the United States, slowly and indirectly trying to strike back at us in a revival of Cold War tensions. The reality of modern Russia under the leadership of Mr. Putin is not ideal, but not terribly dangerous to the average US citizen. Their resource based economy has been severely hurt by the drop in oil prices and the international community’s response to their aggressive actions in Ukraine and the Middle East. A quick search shows that the US Dollar is equal to almost 60 Russian Rubles. It is true that they sit on the largest nuclear stockpile in the world, but it is also true that the United States possesses a stockpile ranked at a dangerously close second, enough to keep the dynamics of mutually assured destruction alive. In any case, Russia has been trying to strengthen its influence on the world stage in recent years, despite its weakened economy. This pursuit causes the government of Russia to, at times, act more like a gang than a respectable, permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
One of the more blatant examples of Russia’s indiscriminate tendencies is their consistent bombing of rebelling Syrian forces in the city of Aleppo at great cost to the civilian population. They do this in support of President Bashar al-Assad and his fiercely nationalist administration. President Assad is infamous for using chemical weapons against citizens of his own country, most notably in August of 2013, when his military dropped about 1,000 kg of sarin gas in the rebel-held suburbs of Ghouta, killing over 1,000 men, women and children. Mr. Putin’s government has no qualms about supporting people who use those kinds of brutal tactics. The only sign from Russia that may be taken as a signal of their disapproval of such tactics came when they did not veto a UNSC resolution “…to investigate and determine the perpetrators of the chemical attacks in Syria.” Since then, Russia has continued to support the Assad regime’s fight against the rebels, even if it means killing civilians. The Human Rights Watch NGO states that in two months alone in the city of Aleppo, the Russian-Syrian coalition’s bombing campaign “…killed more than 440 civilians, including more than 90 children.” Both the targeting strategy and the types of weapons used were “recklessly indiscriminate.” At least one hospital was purposely targeted and cluster munitions and incendiary weapons were used to inflict maximum damage. The situation in Aleppo represents a tremendous and unnecessary loss of life as a result of Russia’s attempt to support an ally and back nationalistic causes.
Russia has also tried to broaden its influence through direct interference with the United States presidential elections, strengthening its stance as the wildcard of world politics. The US government has confirmed that Russia was behind the successful hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other organizations within the Democratic Party. According to CNN, this Russian hacking publicized “…thousands of stolen emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…” The CIA later discovered and announced that Russian hackers were responsible not only for attempting to damage Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, but also for helping Mr. Trump through assistance in the spreading of fake news about Hillary Clinton. In both cases, Russia was successful in its attempts to bolster its reputation as an international wildcard with far-reaching influence.
In the same way that cash is king in a gang hierarchy, the same goes for Mr. Putin and his inner circle of Russian oil aristocrats. In the time since Mr. Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States, Russian billionaires, many of which have close ties to Mr. Putin, have gained a combined total $29 billion on their net worth. These astronomical figures attract suspicion to Mr. Putin’s personal financial dealings and his motivations to authorize the hacking that the CIA has now stated helped Trump in his election campaign. Gennady Timchenko has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the rise in wealth. In 2014, he withdrew his stake in an oil trading firm the day before the United States brought sanctions against it due to Mr. Putin’s alleged personal investment in the firm. So, like a gang leader, Mr. Putin has a vested interest in the success of the major companies he is tied to.
As it appears, Mr. Putin currently sits as the ring-leader of a gang of Russian oil and steel magnates, looking out for their monetary well-being and potentially getting a cut of the profit in return. When combined with Russia’s purposeful killing of civilians in Syria, it makes for a grim picture of the troublesome nuclear power that is Russia in the 21st century.