Analysis

The Putin regime: a perennial malign actor on world stage

Salaam Times

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Russian President Vladimir Putin observes military manoeuvres during the Tsentr-2019 exercise last September. One of the clearest indications of the Kremlin's malign activity is its direct military interference in countries and regions deemed strategic to Moscow. [Kremlin]

An analysis of Moscow's activity on the world stage has underscored the malign nature of the regime led by President Vladimir Putin, as state-backed actors appear intent on manipulating foreign societies, undermining governments, violating international treaties, spreading disinformation and degrading human rights.

For years the Russian regime has been at the forefront of malign actors on the international stage -- from the illegal annexation of Crimea to its attempts to foment unrest and divisions through disinformation and hacking in the interests of the regime.

But now, that malign influence is spreading farther to various corners of the world, leaving misery, death and division in its wake, and worrying observers about what lies ahead.

Military adventurism

One of the clearest indications of the Kremlin's malign activity is its direct military interference in countries and regions deemed strategic to Moscow.

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A member of the Russian military goes on patrol in eastern Syria. Deliberate bombing of civilian targets, including hospitals, by Russian warplanes has killed at least 6,500 civilians and displaced nearly a million, and Russian military incursions in eastern Syria are disrupting efforts to battle "Islamic State" (IS). [Russian Ministry of Defence]

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An image shared on social media shows Russian mercenaries operating in Syria. The notorious Wagner Group, which carries out Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda worldwide under a cover of plausible deniability, has been or is active in a number of countries around the world, including Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Madagascar and more. [File]

The most recent example is Libya, where Moscow, through its proxy mercenary army the Wagner Group, is supporting strongman Khalifa Haftar against the United Nations (UN)-recognised government.

The Kremlin's bid to take over the country appears to have failed, amid reports of rifts between Haftar and the mercenaries and a series of battlefield losses by his forces, but the carnage has left hundreds dead and displaced more than 200,000.

However, the recent revelation of Russian jets based in Libya suggests the Kremlin may have long-term plans there despite its failed coup attempt.

The notorious Wagner Group, which carries out Putin's agenda worldwide under a cover of plausible deniability, has been or is active in a number of countries around the world, including Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Madagascar and more.

Wagner, in co-ordination with the Russian military, is behind the civil war in eastern Ukraine and was instrumental in Moscow's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Kremlin support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has left a tragic trail of bloodshed in its wake.

Deliberate bombing of civilian targets, including hospitals, by Russian warplanes has killed at least 6,500 civilians and displaced nearly a million, and Russian military incursions in eastern Syria are disrupting efforts to battle "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

In Georgia, citizens face overt Russian interference. On August 8, 2008, the Russian army swept into Georgia and has since occupied huge swaths of territory. The Kremlin recognised South Ossetia and another separatist enclave, Abkhazia, as independent states and then stationed permanent military bases on their territory.

The Russian war with Georgia and occupation of a fifth of its territory have led to great concern in Central Asia, where leaders and citizens alike are increasingly worried about Russian interference.

Kyrgyzstan is questioning the intent of Russian deployment of air and missile defence systems on its territory, Turkmen officials are increasingly angered by Russian officials' continued fear-mongering over Turkmenistan's border security, and Tajikistan is concerned the Kremlin is inciting fears of terrorism to play into the narrative that Tajikistan "needs" Russian military assistance.

In Kazakhstan, concerns are rising over how Moscow's most recent efforts to expand co-operation under the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) are meant to strengthen the Kremlin's control of its neighbours.

Treaty violations

Putin's regime is also a serial violator of international security treaties that were meant to prevent military conflict.

Most recently, Moscow has failed to comply with the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, which allows the 35 signatory countries, including the United States and Russia, to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territory.

Repeated Russian violations of the treaty, namely Moscow's ban on flights over Kaliningrad and over the Georgian-Russian frontier, have compelled the United States to consider withdrawing from the treaty.

Last year, Putin suspended Russian participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which bans the possession, production or testing of ground-launched missiles that can travel distances of between 500-5,500km, as well as their launchers.

After years of formal complaints and attempts at diplomatic resolution, the United States and its NATO allies concluded that Russia "openly violates" the landmark Cold War treaty.

The INF deal was seen as one of two key arms treaties between Russia and the United States -- the other being the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which keeps the nuclear arsenals of both countries well below their Cold War peak.

However, this deal too is set to expire in 2021, and there appears to be little political will to negotiate an extension.

Disinformation, hacking

The Kremlin may be best known for its campaign to spread disinformation and discord online through its various troll factories and hacking units.

It has been caught interfering in multiple US and European elections, and fuelling discord in the West, but most recently the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has given Moscow more fuel for spreading chaos.

Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts launched a co-ordinated effort to spread conspiracy theories about the coronavirus just as outbreaks deepened across the world, and an investigation revealed these efforts were just the latest example of Putin's long-term campaign to discredit Western healthcare systems.

Even as Russia faced an outbreak within its own borders, the Kremlin began deploying similar tactics of disorientation and confusion on its own country's healthcare system, outraging Russian medical workers.

In May, Facebook took down scores of Russian-based social-media accounts running influence campaigns set up to disrupt elections and society in general around the world. In February, Facebook purged dozens of accounts linked to Russian military intelligence trying to stir up ethnic tension.

These mark only two of many such purges of malign Russian accounts on social media over the years.

Russian hackers have been targeting world leaders and groups for years, with Germany's intelligence service in May calling on the Kremlin to stop this malign activity.

Violation of freedoms

The Kremlin also undermines human and civil rights at home and abroad when it suits its interests.

Putin is actively persevering with "efforts to control the internet, using ever more elaborate methods", citing a law that would allow the country to disconnect the Russian internet from the rest of the world, while there is rampant speculation he is using the coronavirus crisis to extend his rule.

The regime has been silent as Central Asian immigrants stranded in Russia without work and with dwindling resources due to the coronavirus outbreak are seeing their woes compounded by unlawful police persecution and widespread fraud.

Pro-government media outlets in Russia are tapping into citizens' anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic to paint migrant workers from Central Asia as villains and criminals, observers say.

This hostile environment, cruel working conditions and outright xenophobia facing Central Asian migrants in Russia -- all seemingly sanctioned by Moscow -- are creating ideal conditions for extremist recruiters to prey on the vulnerable, angry workers.

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But aren’t Taliban the protégé of America? And weren’t these Americans who clearly equipped Taliban and sent them to the north of Afghanistan? There is a fact that Americans have lost the political game for Russians. And in all wars, whether in Crimea or Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and etc. Russians have played with Americans in each of these places based on the regional circumstances. For example, Russians have launched the same game in Afghanistan as Americans had done against the Soviet Union. You have inserted a picture in your report which shows the Russians in Syria and other places. They have come to accomplish the same goals and programs that Americans had come to our ruined country. If they ask what are Russians doing here? As an Afghan, I want to ask, what were Americans doing and have done in our ruined country in this two-decade time with these hilarity and excitement?

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If I were leading the Russian and American powers, I would have done works that could cause benefits to the humans. What a stupidity is this when you make one missile I make two, I make two another one makes four. The money being spent on making weapons should be spent on the humans' welfare, it should be used for expanding education, health, technology, knowledge.

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Russia and the United States are two cancerous countries in the world. Both of these countries want to become superpower and rule over the whole world. In order to reach this sinister goal, they have launched war in the poor countries. You see what is happening all over Syria? What is happening in Yemen? What is happening in Afghanistan? These two miserable countries are responsible for all the miseries and unrests in the region. Therefore, changing of presidents in Russia and the United States does not matter. If Putin is in power or someone else is at the leading role of the Russian government, the situation will not change. Also it doesn't matter if Donald Trump or someone else is in the US administration. The foreign policies of these two countries are inimical. They are thirsty for power; both of them try to have their own puppets in all countries of the world as leaders in order to work according to their desire. Therefore, all the miseries and wars in all Islamic and non-Islamic countries are because of them. May God destroy both of them.

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