After successfully negotiating with the US over a UN resolution opening an investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Vladimir Putin must have been feeling pretty good about himself. So good, in fact, that his government invited Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to Moscow to try to reach a political settlement over the whole Syrian conflict, pushing the idea of a regional coalition to focus on fighting ISIS and maybe, IDK, forgetting about Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis responded with a polite but firm “no thanks”:
Russia and Saudi Arabia failed in talks on Tuesday to overcome their differences on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a central dispute in Syria’s civil war that shows no sign of abating despite renewed diplomacy.
Russia is pushing for a coalition to fight Islamic State insurgents — who have seized swathes of northern and eastern Syria — that would involve Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow. But, speaking after talks in Moscow, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated Riyadh’s stance that Assad must go.
“A key reason behind the emergence of Islamic State was the actions of Assad who directed his arms at his nation, not Islamic State,” Jubeir told a news conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution to the Syrian crisis … There is no place for Assad in the future of Syria,” he said.
Jubeir and Lavrov reportedly discussed ways to encourage the various rebel groups to stop fighting amongst themselves, but since Russia has virtually no weight with any of Syria’s rebels, it’s hard to see what purpose those discussions could have possibly served other than to make it look like the two ministers actually accomplished something. Moscow does have some pull with Syria’s Kurds going back to Soviet days, so maybe they can help improve relations between the Arab rebels and the Kurds, but the US has pretty good ties with the Kurds too (or at least we did until we maybe sold them out to the Turks). Bottom line: this meeting was a definite bust for Putin, no matter what kind of spin they try to put on it.
Of potentially more urgent concern to Putin is the fact that his country’s economy continues to circle the drain in a major way:
Battered by a combination of falling oil prices, the ruble devaluation and sanctions imposed following the Ukrainian conflict, Russia’s economy contracted by 4.6 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, according to the country’s statistics office. After a decline of 2.2 percent in the previous quarter, this marks Russia’s deepest recession since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
“Dreadful numbers out of Russia – and little sign of any recovery any time soon,” Timothy Ash, analyst at Nomura, said in a research note. He added that consensus forecasts for Russian growth in 2015 would now be revised down to a 4 percent contraction.
Real income dropped for Russians last year for the first time in Putin’s 15 year-long reign as president/prime minister/president/CEO/tsar/imperial dragon/whatever, and there are signs that consumer confidence is tanking. It’s hard to imagine that Russia’s economy could get much worse than this, but that doesn’t mean it will start getting better anytime soon.
Speaking of Ukraine, where Putin swears his soldiers definitely have not gone and definitely have not participated in the fighting, it turns out that Russian soldiers are starting to desert over being sent into Ukraine to participate in the fighting. So that’s interesting.
But surely none of this matters so long as Russia’s international prestige is at an all-time high, as Putin probably believes and as Republicans here in the US are always telling us. The world admires toughness, and Putin sure is tough, ergo he must be well-respected. Well, ah, about that:
Outside its own borders, neither Russia nor its president, Vladimir Putin, receives much respect or support, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. A median of only 30% see Russia favorably in the nations outside of Russia. Its image trails that of the United States in nearly every region of the world. At the same time, a median of only 24% in the countries surveyed have confidence in Putin to do the right thing in world affairs, and there is far less faith in the Russian leader than there is in U.S. President Barack Obama.
Of the 39 countries other than Russia that were surveyed, a majority expressed favorable views of Russia in a whopping three: China (51%), Vietnam (75%) and Ghana, for some reason (56%). A plurality felt favorably toward Russia in all of seven other countries (ten if you give ties to Russia).
So things are going great in and for Russia, as you can tell. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Vladimir Putin is a super-genius.
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