Wall Street Journal

For Putin, OPEC and Trump, 2021 Was a Good Year

Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the United Russia Party Congress, on August 24, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the United Russia Party Congress, on August 24, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

As a weary world ushers in 2022, there is little nostalgia for 2021—a year defined by a lingering pandemic, surging inflation, and rising international tensions across the board. Some had a better time than others, though, and here’s a list of the three biggest winners and losers in the past year. First the winners:

Vladimir Putin. Since taking power in 1999, the Russian president has had a good run. Mr. Putin’s winning streak continued in 2021 as Russian support helped Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko survive Western sanctions, Russian power grew from the Caucasus to the Balkans, and a late-year Russian troop buildup east of Ukraine put Moscow’s revisionist agenda at the center of world politics. Sagging demographics, a rising China and the continuing failure to diversify the economy away from overreliance on oil and gas make Russia’s future perilous in the long term, but for the moment, Mr. Putin and the country he rules are on the march.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Much to the dismay of the world’s climate warriors, 2021 was a banner year for fossil-fuel producers. This year looks even better. Twenty twenty-one saw Saudi Arabia post its first budget surplus since 2013. The Saudis currently project a 10% rise in oil revenue in 2022 as the pandemic eases and oil demand rises. But it isn’t only about the money. Energy shortages enabled the big oil producers to make great powers dance to their tunes. The Biden administration had hoped to take a tough line with the Gulf Arabs on issues ranging from climate change to human rights. Instead, President Biden found himself begging the sheikhs to restrain rising oil prices to limit American inflation.

Donald Trump. He started 2021 as one of the biggest losers in American political history: a one-term president, twice impeached, whose party lost control of the House in the midterms and lost the Senate two years later. His shambolic effort to overturn the election launched to universal mockery at Four Seasons Total Landscaping and culminated in the lasting disgrace of Jan. 6. During 2021, the momentum shifted. Mr. Trump has reasserted his power in Republican politics and is a credible contender for 2024. On China and on trade, the Biden administration has largely followed Mr. Trump’s lead. Even Mr. Trump’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” initiative has been revived by the courts. The trend of growing GOP support among working-class black and Hispanic voters attracted by Trumpian populism continues. With Covid still uncontrolled and inflation surging, Donald Trump plans to spend 2022 asking voters “Do you miss me yet?” Many seem ready to answer in the affirmative.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal