THE BLOG
12/15/2016 05:05 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2017

Russia's Surprising Friends & Alllies

When Americans think of the world, they see such major allies as England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the European Union and several key Third World countries.

But when Americans think of Russia they see few allies.

This perception was reinforced by the Russian defeat in the Cold War in 1991 which led to the loss of Eastern and Central Europe and disintegration of the Soviet Union into 15 republics. The number of Communist states has declined from 15 to only three or four. Russia has a modest navy and only one port (Latakia in Syria) in the Middle East. President Obama has said that Russia is "only a regional power."

Yet, Russia today has strong nuclear and conventional forces, excellent government high-tech (as Wikileaks), large population, huge landmass, powerful role in victory in World War II, and 40 years as a superpower. As the Russians retook Abhaziya and South Ossetia (2008), Crimea (2014) and parts of Left Bank Ukraine (2014-2016. The question is whether Russia has significant allies to become a great power again.

Russia does have a number of friends and allies around the world. Parts of the former Soviet Union (Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Crimea) have many pro-Russian emigrants. With over one million Russian Jewish immigrants, Israel is quite friendly to Russia.

Russia's strong military can sell first-rate weapons to key countries such as China, Iran, India, Argentina and Brazil. Its nuclear reactors attract Sunni Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan afraid of Iranian intentions towards them. Putin's conservative authoritarianism with religious overtones attracts support in a world in which authoritarian regimes like China, Iran and Turkey are on the rise. The fight with Islamic fundamentalism such as ISIS has brought support by Iran and Shiite forces.

Then there is the matter of history. In the late Tsarist period Russians saw France as a noble, highly cultured country. By the 19th century Russian nobles would speak French before they spoke Russian and would visit France. France's last war with Russia was in 1853. In 1893 France and Russia signed a military pact and France was the leading country in financing the modernization of Russian until 1914. In World War I France, England and Russia fought together against Germany.

Even after the Anglo-American armies liberated Paris in August 1944, the French still looked eastward to Russia for help with the final victory over Nazi Germany in World War II in May 1945. That same year the pro-Russian Communist Party was the largest party in France. Russians saw France as the source of their Revolution and as late as 1966 Charles DeGaulle, refusing to join NATO and ridiculing the United States, visited Russia. Today, France's two leading conservative politicians, Marine le Pen and Francois Fillons, are friendly to Russia.

Bulgaria still remembers affectionately that Russian troops liberated them from Ottoman Turkey in 1878. During World War II it refused to declare war on Russia. Romania and Czech Republic both see Moscow positively, as does Hungary under Victor Orban.

The Soviet Union did well with new states after World War II in part because it never was a colonial power. India, since independence in 1947 has made Russia their number one source of military weapons. Cuba in 1959 was supported by Russia against the US and was the setting for a 1962 nuclear showdown between the Soviet Union and United States. Syria depends heavily on Russian equipment and military action to keep Bashar Assad in power.

And finally there is China. China still buys weapons from Russia and works together with it against "American imperialism." China needs Russia until it itself becomes a global power.

When you look at friendly countries such as China, India, France, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Argentina and Brazil, Russia under Putin is far from being a secondary regional power. It is also far from being the #1 power in the world but it is aspiring for #2.

Not bad for a country that imploded 25 years ago!