By exploiting US disengagement and the many regional crises, Putin has built up a network of alliances and become central to the Middle East.
From the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s until 2014, Russia appeared to be experiencing a constant erosion of its sphere of influence. NATO was pushing further into Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia during that period. Some of the Soviet satellite states were distancing themselves from Moscow, and the US was moving its military bases right into the heart of Central Asia. Finally, in 2014, the Kremlin lost control of the Ukraine, the most important piece of its jigsaw puzzle. Russia reacted angrily, annexing the Crimea and fuelling the separatist war in Donbass, even at the cost of provoking harsh international economic sanctions. At that point, Russia’s economic and geopolitical decline seemed to be an inescapable destiny. But less than four years later, analysts find themselves commenting on Moscow’s rise on the international scene. How could that have happened?