The Putin regime: a perennial malign actor on world stage

For years the Russian regime has been at the forefront of malign actors on the international stage


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The Putin regime: a perennial malign actor on world stage 1

Undermining governments, fomenting unrest, spreading disinformation and supporting the indiscriminate killing of innocents around the world are the unfortunate hallmarks of the 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.

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.


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