Russian President Vladimir Putin has adopted a “go it alone” approach throughout the Ukraine crisis and regularly describes his country as “independent” and nonaligned. But Moscow is not as isolated as Putin makes out. The fact that he cannot see this reality — or chooses to ignore it — has produced a series of decisions that has seriously undermined Russia’s global role.
For the past two decades, Moscow has viewed its foray into global institutions as a major success. It has increasingly integrated into the global economy. Those achievements, however, now present Putin with a major dilemma.
In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia signed multiple treaties and joined numerous international organizations, including the Council of Europe, the G7 (which became the G8) and the World Trade Organization.
Whether Russia understood the underlying obligations that accompanied its memberships is unclear. The ink was not yet dry on Russia’s accession to the WTO, for example, when Putin demanded that member countries be allowed to introduce protectionist measures during times of global insecurity.
Yet the consensus in Russia was that membership bought Russia a vital seat at the table and increased its influence in world affairs. In addition, the United States and the European Union generally believed that it was better to have Russia inside — as opposed to outside — the international system of global governance even if Russia did not meet all the prerequisites for full membership.