The next time you are at the pump, take your time to appreciate the moderate gas prices.
They may not last.
The Russian economy depends on oil prices, and the Kremlin could try to widen the current military conflicts in the Middle East and spur new ones to drive prices up.
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The Kremlin-controlled Russian media have focused on reports of the discord between and within the U.S. branches of power, most recently flooding media outlets with reports of the spat between President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tellingly, the Russian media have abstained from gloating, which was its usual reaction with slip-ups of the Obama administration, as was the case with the announced Syrian chemical-weapons-use red line that was never enforced.
That’s because the status quo — with the Trump administration in its current state of disrepair — suits the Kremlin just fine.
The Kremlin — which publicly defines Russia's national interest as winning in a zero-sum game against the United States — has successfully used the mixed signals that the U.S. leadership has sent to both friends and enemies around the world to its own advantage.
Most notably in the Middle East.
RIA Novosti, the Russian government news and feature agency, is celebrating with such commentaries as “Russia Has Returned What Is Called a 'High Imperial Style’ to the World Politics.”
Over the past few months, Russia has managed to all but win the war for the criminal Assad regime in Syria, come close to splitting up Russia's perceived nemesis NATO by luring away the Erdogan regime in Turkey, and invited Saudi Arabia, a traditional U.S. ally, into Russia's newly acquired sphere of influence in the Middle East.
Consider just a few most recent events that underscore those accomplishments:
- Russia-supported Syrian troops and allied militias crossed to the eastern side of the Euphrates in Syria's province of Deir al-Zor and have since been accumulating in the area previously controlled by U.S.- backed rebel groups. Euphrates had served as a de-facto border between U.S.- backed forces and those supported by Russia, helping prevent clashes between the U.S. and Russian military personnel.
- Russia sold advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Turkey, damaging interoperability between Turkish missile defense and that of other NATO countries.
- Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Vladimir Putin met at the Kremlin during a first-ever visit by a Saudi monarch to Russia.
- Russia has struck a deal with OPEC to limit oil production in order to keep the oil prices higher.
As U.S. allies exhibit a growing mistrust of U.S. initiatives with Mr. Trump's America First campaign generally understood as a policy of disengagement, Mr. Putin develops and widens his contacts in the region, emerging as a regional power broker. While casting himself as peacemaker, he has one goal in mind – to expand Russia's spoilsport role in the Middle East.
Russia has been hurting economically from the low oil prices, with the Western economic sanctions making it worse. Having failed to translate Mr. Trump's unexplained friendliness into the U.S. and European Union dropping those sanctions, Mr. Putin will predictably use his clout in the Middle East to get out of the increasing mess he has found himself in, with mass protests against his corrupt regime on the rise in Russia.
Mr. Putin will try to widen the current military conflicts in the Middle East and spur new ones in order to decrease the region's oil output and increase oil prices, on which the Russian economy depends.
Unless the White House gets its act together soon, the situation in the Middle East can become irreparable to the point that gas prices become the least of our concerns.
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