Vladimir Putin has won re-election by a wide margin. However, he begins his fourth term as President of the Russian Federation in difficult international circumstances.
Hostility towards Russia from an increasing number of world leaders has risen following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, which led to the hospitalisation of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said after the nerve agent attack: "Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others."
She then gave Moscow a 24-hour ultimatum to account for how an allegedly Russian-made nerve agent ended up being used on British soil. The Kremlin subsequently defied the ultimatum, this action being followed by a ‘tit for tat’ between Russia and the UK as they each proceeded to expel 23 diplomats, with the UK later receiving formal backing from countries such as the United States, France and Germany.
As Vladimir Putin celebrates his victory at home, the question ‘what next?’ is preoccupying Western policy-makers, who see the attack on Skripal as yet more evidence of reckless Russian foreign policy behaviour, which characterised Putin’s third term in office.
This period has seen Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the military intervention in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, a number of cyber warfare attacks and alleged interference in the United States Presidential elections.
It should therefore come as no surprise that there are many calls from the UK and other Western countries to show more resolve towards Russia, aside from expelling diplomats or not sending senior government officials to the World Cup this summer.
As Russia has now clearly transformed into a much ‘warmer’ and more assertive presence on the international stage compared to the Cold War, it has been suggested further restraint towards the country of matryoshka dolls is not the most sensible option.