Russians have borne the weight of failed leadership for so long that it’s hard to blame them for their stooped backs and acquiescence. Trump should stand up for them, though. If he cooperates in Putin’s charade by treating the Russian president as an important world leader — not just an annoying one — Trump will be complicit in the exploitation of the Russian people. If, on the other hand, Trump were to call out Putin for the second-rater that he is, Russians might begin to wake up, look around and notice that they’ve been led down yet another dead end.
The problem of Putin is the problem of Kim Jong Un, but on a larger scale. Neither one would merit much attention from U.S. presidents but for the menace of their nuclear warheads.
However, menace is not the same as strength. Starting with George W. Bush peering into Putin’s soul, through Barack Obama’s Russia “reset,” to Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, American presidents have flattered Putin without success. From Syria to Crimea to Ukraine, flattery has egged him on. It’s time to call weakness by its name.