The closest thing the United States has to a global challenger is Russia. The country is increasingly active in both Europe and the Middle East and shares America's ambitions of pivoting to Asia. The US is significantly more powerful than Russia, boasting a much more impressive military and a much stronger economy. But there is at least an impression among both Americans and Russians that some sort of geopolitical competition, however uneven, is unfolding.
Perhaps for that reason, the folks at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were inspired to track every 2015 international trip by America and Russia's top diplomats: Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They compiled a cool visualization, and I thought I'd try mapping it out, above:
RFE/RL found that in 2015, Kerry officially visited 41 countries, and Lavrov visited 26. Of those, 17 were overlaps, meaning that Kerry visited most of the countries that Lavrov had visited. Between the two of them, they saw 50 countries total. So already the discrepancy is pretty clear, with America's top foreign official welcomed into almost twice as many countries as Russia's — though Lavrov's 26 is still a big enough number to reflect Moscow's global ambitions.
Obviously, the personal trips of a country's top foreign official are a clumsy metric at best for gauging that nation's foreign policy. Still, it's not totally irrelevant, and if nothing else it can be an interesting glimpse at a country's priorities.
Both diplomats, tellingly, clustered their activity most heavily in the same place: Western Europe. An awful lot of these trips were about negotiating international agreements on the Ukraine crisis as well as on major Middle East issues: the Iran nuclear deal, ISIS, and Syria. Others were about European unity in the face of the refugee crisis and terrorism. It's hard to miss that a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, Moscow and Washington are still acting as mediators in the two parts of the world, Europe and the Mideast, where they'd long competed.
Lavrov also, unsurprisingly, spent a great deal of time in the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Still, for all Russia's attention to Europe and its former Soviet states, it's not for nothing that Lavrov was largely absent outside of those regions, with the exception of a single day in China and a quick little sprint through Central America. Kerry, however, traveled pretty globally, spending significant time in Asia, Africa, and even Russia's backyard in former Soviet Central Asia.
This map, then, hints at two big-picture stories in addition to all the smaller stories of individual trips and tours. The first is about Russia's recent attempt — since Vladimir Putin began his third term in 2012 — to assert a global role it lost with the Soviet Union's collapse. But the second is that for all the Washington Beltway hysteria you hear about Russia, it is still nowhere remotely close to matching the United States in global reach and influence.