It is no coincidence that Putin and Xi have cemented their grip on cherished goals, as the clock runs down on Trump’s first, and possibly only, term in office.
This past week, in a referendum on constitutional revisions so predictable that copies were on sale before the vote, Putin has effectively been made President for life, as Xi has moved equally ruthlessly, taking control of Hong Kong through a new national security law, while telling US allies Canada, Australia and the UK to keep out of China’s internal affairs.
Both seem to be of the view the US has neither the will nor the consistency to put up resistance. Indeed, Trump’s White House gave evidence of exactly that this week, floundering for a coherent response to allegations Russia paid the Taliban to kill US forces in Afghanistan. The Russian Embassy in Washington and the Taliban have both denied the claims.
As David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post this week, Putin “is in the payback business. He believes the United States destroyed his former country, the Soviet Union. He likes the United States to feel pain.” He now has plenty of years for more payback.