The Putin doctrine: Building up Russia by tearing down the U.S.

To achieve this goal, he challenges and subverts America’s posture and interests, relying on three main components.

First, Putin orchestrated a comprehensive buildup in the Russian armed forces, using the growing revenue from the country’s energy resources, primarily natural gas and crude oil. For most of the 1990s, Russian policymakers were overwhelmingly preoccupied with political and economic survival, and the defense establishment was one of the main sectors that suffered. Salaries were not paid, bases in the former Soviet republics were abandoned, training was scarce, critical equipment was left to rust and operational preparedness reached an all-time low. Since the early 2000s, when Putin first took office as president, however, Russia’s military budget has tripled and, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, it currently constitutes 4.4% of Russia’s GDP, or more than $90 billion.

Second, Putin was able to use a number of institutional platforms to frustrate and foil U.S. initiatives he considered harmful to Russian interests. In 2003, before the Iraq war, for example, Russia was successful in blocking the Bush administration from getting a U.N. resolution passed to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. Today, as the Syria crisis unfolds and President Obama is seeking congressional approval for a limited punitive strike against Syria, Russia actively uses its veto power at the U.N. Security Council to preemptively obstruct any American attempt to gain international legitimization for such an attack. Russia follows the same pattern of behavior at the International Atomic Energy Agency when the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program is discussed.

Third, Putin crafted an association of states that share his basic anti-American strategic vision for the international system. China has become Russia’s chief ally in frustrating Obama’s foreign policy goals.