Stent is a veteran Russia watcher who has served in senior positions in the U.S. government. She hardly qualifies as an apologist for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but she gives him ample credit for achieving his main foreign policy goals: reasserting Russia’s position as a global player, protecting the country’s sovereignty, gaining respect from non-Western actors, and overcoming the West’s attempts to isolate Russia. To Stent, a historical outlook is indispensable for understanding Putin’s foreign policy. For centuries, she explains, the country’s vast territory and lack of natural borders have bred a deep-seated sense of vulnerability. Putin saw the West as taking advantage of the weakness caused by the Soviet collapse, and he responded by craftily exploiting his Western rivals’ missteps and lack of unity. Eventually, these tactics aided Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. He has been particularly successful, Stent notes, in handling relations with China and the countries of the Middle East. Stent devotes far less space to Putin’s policy failures: the high cost of his clashes with the West, Russia’s lack of any real allies, and the country’s persistent economic weakness. In some respects, Putin’s Russia looks a bit like the Soviet Union did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, under Leonid Brezhnev: domestic stagnation combined with activism abroad. Stent does not claim to know exactly which policies Western countries should pursue in dealing with Putin, but she counsels strategic patience and preparedness—and suggests that it would be wise to expect the unexpected.
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