Putin: You think I'd attack NATO? You must be insane.

In most of the western world there has been increasing concern over precisely what Russia’s long term plans are and whether Vladimir Putin really has his eyes on his old empire or if he’s just playing tough guy politics at home. Trying to claim that the entire thing is a show for the suckers with no actual threat behind it is rather specious given recent affairs in Georgia and Ukraine, but how much further might Vlad be willing to go? If you take Putin at his word, you’d have to be nuts to even ask the question.

“Only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack Nato,” Mr Putin told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The Western alliance is bolstering its military presence in its eastern European members in response to their fears of Russian threat, following its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Nato says that Russia is backing rebels in Ukraine – a claim denied by Moscow.

Early this month, Nato pledged to counter “hybrid warfare” from Russia – which included a mixture of conventional military tactics, subversive campaigns and cyber-warfare that Russia was using in Ukraine.

In a rather surprising development for the Obama administration, it appears that the United States is working on countering that hybrid warfare already with a training program for the Ukraine army which has been underway since early this spring. It’s kicked into high gear during the past month and Vladimir Putin isn’t exactly a fan of the idea.

American troops are training Ukrainian forces on Russia’s doorstep, a move seen as a major provocation by Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The live-fire drills and counter-insurgency exercises involving about 300 U.S. paratroopers are a key bone of contention for the Moscow, which the West accuses of helping to arm pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. military has previously conducted exercises that involved Ukrainian soldiers, but the direct training is a first. Relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest ebb in decades with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warning late last year that the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War.”

By this point I think we’ve mostly gotten over the fanciful idea that we’re dealing with any sort of honest broker in Russia and that everything can be set to rights with a magical reset button. But Putin is a tough nut to crack. As Carly Fiorina pointed out during CPAC this year, she’s met with the Russian leader multiple times and he’s gifted at smiling at you in a charming fashion while lying to your face. He’s also mastered the art of denying the obvious during interviews and insisting that the west is making everything up while looking for all the world like a hurt puppy who can’t believe that you’re implying such things about him. Meanwhile, people continue to die in Ukraine.

Still, Putin is keeping up the international charm offensive. He’s meeting with the Pope this week and will no doubt continue his attempts to look like some sort of peacemaker. And when he’s not flexing his military muscle, he’s using Russia’s diminished but still substantial financial clout to meddle in European affairs. He’s been dangling some tempting offers in front of Greece to try to draw them away from NATO and the west as they deal with their financial collapse. He’s never taken any sort of seriously hard line against Iran, North Korea or any other dangerous regimes. The list goes on.

We’re going to need someone who can deal with this guy in the White House. Putin may be an evil, terrible person, but when it comes to global power maneuvers, he’s playing three dimensional chess while we’re still playing checkers. We have the tools to continue to pressure him economically, assuming we can solve our energy export blockages, but it’s looking more and more like a strong military front is required to show him we’re serious. But for the moment, we don’t have much on the ball in that department and Putin still seems to feel as if he has a free hand.