Vladimir Putin secured a fourth six-year term as Russian president on Sunday, making him the nation’s longest serving leader behind Joseph Stalin. But even with a landslide victory at home, Putin faces an international coalition prepared to react collectively toward his antagonisms.
The Russian election came just a day after Moscow expelled 23 British officials, the latest escalation of a diplomatic crisis resulting from a nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom. Though Russia denied any involvement in the attack, Western powers have universally condemned the Kremlin.
“The European Union strongly condemns the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, U.K. on 4 March 2018, that also left a police officer seriously ill,” read a statement released by European Union foreign ministers during a meeting in Brussels on Monday. “The European Union takes extremely seriously the U.K. government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.”
In solidarity with the U.K., the United States appeared to halt public diplomatic relations with Moscow: President Donald Trump, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western leaders, did not speak with Putin after his reelection.
Even as the Trump administration fends off criticisms for lifting Russia sanctions following reports that Russia influenced the 2016 election, White House officials are edging closer to a showdown with Putin’s regime.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has emerged as the Trump era’s hardliner against Russia, threatening further U.S. military intervention in Syria during a fiery speech last week. Meanwhile, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced bipartisan legislation at the onset of the year to deter Russian disinformation campaigns, while military officials investigate new methods of warfare.
“It’s being taken very seriously in the Pentagon,” an active-duty military official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Observer, citing the U.S.’s development of grand strategies to counter Russia’s “gray zones tactics”—unconventional military attacks, like cyber hacks, that require newer, unorthodox responses.
In recent weeks, Putin’s forces in Syria have suffered the crashing of a military transport, the downing of a fighter jet and the loss of roughly 200 mercenary forces. Russian diplomats responded by blocking a U.N. Security Council meeting on human rights on Monday, retreating further from the world stage as Western powers look toward diplomacy to reaffirm the liberal international order.