With exacting precision only a dictator can orchestrate, the government’s press release announced the formal end to Putin’s last internal, democratic challenge: Alexei Navalny was dead. 

His, and democracy’s, ignoble end was declared, allegedly, only two minutes after it happened. Internally and geopolitically, the Russian government understood the ramifications and the consequences. It wanted to waste no time.

Officially, Navalny died of “instant death syndrome” but to the free world, he was martyred. The timing of his death was another chess move, just like the press release.

National elections in Russia are next month and the current head of government, Vladimir Putin, is expected to clear yet another electoral victory, his fifth such election.

Plans are also underway for a new spring offensive on the Ukrainian front, coinciding with the winter thaw, and also because there are no coincidences in Putin’s Russia, the timing is possibly linked with the future celebrations of his next term.

World reaction has been swift, if muddled, and inconsequential. There are firm words again from the president of the United States, as well as consternation from his secretaries at Defense and State. Another round of sanctions will be announced by the White House.

From their palatial dachas, Putin and his politburo are reading all about the response from the West. They know for all the bluster of the West, in the end, it won’t matter. Business will continue as usual in Moscow.

Lacking a real response from the United States or its NATO allies, Putin now stands alone, emboldened by his continued snubbing of international norms. He has truly become master of his country. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the last century brought about what “experts” decried as the loss of the bipolar world. There was to be no more great conflict between East and West ever again. America had won. In her ascendance, it was her turn to lead.

And lead it did, under strong foreign policy triangulation and global coalitions. Though there were notable misses, such as the genocide in Rwanda and the first Chechen War, American leaders tended to swing big, utilising their global partners. George H. W. Bush stood up to Saddam in the first Gulf War. Bill Clinton in Sarajevo and Kosovo. George W. Bush led a coalition of the willing against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam again in Iraq. Ultimate outcomes aside, American leaders galvanised world support around a common cause. 

Leaderless, after a coup from its own ruling party, Congress today is paralyzed, unable to figure out how to get yearly foreign aid to its largest ally, Israel, much less what to do with Ukraine. Biden, leader of the free world, is no better. 

While Putin and his billionaire oligarchs prepare for their summer getaways on the French Riviera, the current president of the United States is battling very real public concerns about his deteriorating mental acumen. His response to Russia has been standard, old foreign policy thinking. Isolate the leaders, cut off trade, slap on more sanctions.

The success of these strategies in toppling dictators has been, well, mixed. Look at Cuba and Venezuela, in our region of the world. Their leftist governments are still firmly entrenched, decades after sanctions were enacted to cripple their regimes. Even Nicaragua has seen a return of its strongman, Daniel Ortega, and fresh sanctions. Iran, China, and North Korea join the list as heavily sanctioned, yet their regimes continue to rule unabated. 

The previous administration took a radical new approach: engagement and not shyness. It was to be firm, strong, and decisive. Foreign entanglements, hot military conflicts, all readjusted from previous long-standing norms and given a fresh look. NATO funding for example was to be reevaluated, given the allies’ own meager contributions.

Silicon Valley and the business world call it a disrupting factor. New ways of thinking that go against the grain of industry are what make the tech world innovative. Foreign policy needs this from time to time. And we’ve seen it to varying degrees of success. Remember Nixon, the ardent anti-communist, opened China and normalised relations. Yitzhak Rabin, former IDF chief and architect of the successful, but bloody, victory in the 1948 Arab-Israel War, led the early ‘90s charge for Palestinian peace, not war, in the Middle East. 

Big foreign policy outcomes for the last administration were, by and large, successful. North Korea’s dictator gave up his nuclear ambitions – if only temporarily. Iran continued to meddle in the Middle East, sure, but its nuclear ambitions were also curtailed. The Abraham Accords were the first real stab at peace in the region and normalisation of Arab regional relations with Israel since the above-mentioned Rabin/Arafat Oslo Accords of the early 1990s. 

America was a leader, beholden to no one. America was first. 

The Ukraine conflict has shown that the world again has gone unipolar. China lurks, as does Iran. But their relationships continue to be intertwined, often even with the Western powers they try to defy. 

While Europe is trying to figure out its new role in the post-Angela Merkel era, America’s presence at the moment is diminished. Leadership and new disruptive ways of thinking need to return to the global stage. So, remember, our elections, unlike Russia’s, matter.

Because today, without the US, it’s Putin, alone.