The staff of Fortune is assembling its predictions for 2017 in our annual feature, the Fortune Crystal Ball, now on newsstands in the December 1 issue of the magazine. Here’s one of our forecasts.
President-elect Donald Trump has been clear he expects to have a “great” relationship with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. But given Russia’s international aggression in recent years, it’s worth wondering if the country will become more aggressive, not less, during the Trump administration. With that in mind, here are a few of Putin’s likely next targets.
"Russia is opportunistic. It will do what it can, where it can," said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House. "The Baltic States are fairly well defended these days. The Balkans, by contrast, are relatively fertile ground and certainly less watched over by the West—Hungary and Serbia, for example, are willing supplicants already."
With Russian forces bogged down in Syria and Ukraine, the Kremlin will look to make sure that its involvement in both countries was not for nothing. "Russia is locked into a cycle of provocation," said Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. That includes at home—Putin likes to act the part of "the leader of a besieged fortress," and manufacturing domestic crisis may help distract the public from lingering foreign entanglements, as well as bolster his political legitimacy.
Western Facebook Feeds
"The Kremlin is waging what I call a non-kinetic and asymmetrical war on the West and its institutions," said Brian Whitmore, author of The Power Vertical. Cyber attacks against US targets and support for extremist political forces (think paid Facebook posts and the like) in Europe will continue. While the US held off on launching a commensurate strike before the election, Trump will have to decide if, when, and how to retaliate once in office.