Somewhat belatedly, President Obama has called on Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops from the Russian-Ukraine border, where 80,000 have massed for several weeks in apparent preparation to enter eastern Ukraine. Also somewhat belatedly, Obama has begun taking Putin at his word on the loss of the Soviet Union:
President Obama, in an interview in Rome with “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Scott Pelley, said Russia must take steps now to reduce tensions over Ukraine.
Asked what he’s seeing on the Ukrainian border that worries him, Mr. Obama replied, “It’s well known and well acknowledged that you’ve seen a range of troops massing along that border under the guise of military exercises. But these are not what Russia would normally be doing. And, you know, it may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that they’ve got additional plans.”
To resolve and de-escalate the situation right now, Mr. Obama said Russia needs “to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government, as well as the international community.”
Obama also tacitly admitted that reset buttons don’t change the nature of national leaders and their ambitions in the world:
Turning to Vladimir Putin and what he wants, Mr. Obama said the Russian president has been “willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.”
“You would have thought that after a couple of decades that there’d be an awareness on the part of any Russian leader that the path forward is not to revert back to the kinds of practices that, you know, were so prevalent during the Cold War but, in fact, to move forward with further integration with the world economy and to be a responsible international citizen.”
Yes — and you’d think that Obama would already know this, since Putin has been publicly airing that “deeply held grievance” for almost a decade. The Bush administration belatedly came to the conclusion that Putin was an imperialist after he started talking about the Soviet collapse as history’s greatest tragedy in 2005 and began recalculating the US relationship with Russia, especially in the area of missile defense in regard to Iran, whom Russia insisted on protecting (along with China). Obama insisted that the problems with Russia were just George W. Bush being a cowboy, which is how we ended up with the “reset button” and the retreat on missile defense, along with Obama’s promise to Dmitri Medvedev for more “flexibility” after the election.
By the way, remember when the cognoscenti said that the giant hammer and sickle floats at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony were just a nod to “one of history’s pivotal experiments“? Welcome to another.
Even after all that, Obama insisted that Putin is misreading the West:
“What I have repeatedly said is that he may be entirely misreading the West,” Mr. Obama continued. “He’s certainly misreading American foreign policy. We have no interest in encircling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives.”
Putin seems to be reading the West just fine at the moment. Obama, on the other hand, still doesn’t appear to grasp Putin. The seizure of Crimea wasn’t to parry the West, nor will be the seizure of eastern Ukraine when it happens. It will be to reabsorb as many Russian enclaves back into a “Greater Russia” as Putin thinks he can without prompting a military response from the West.
When might a military operation cross the border into eastern Ukraine? It may not happen today, but look for a Friday night/Saturday morning move that takes Western leaders off guard. That was the strategy in Crimea.