Skip to main content

The President’s Atypically Tough Words for Putin

David Satter

President Obama’s speech in Brussels was important for one paragraph in which he warned that if Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine continues, Russia’s isolation will deepen and sanctions will expand.

This is what the Russian leadership needed to hear. For the moment, the Putin strategy of using external aggression to distract the Russian population from an evaluation of his regime’s crimes is a success. Russia is being swept with a wave of patriotic fervor. Putin’s approval rating has reached 80 percent, replicating the achievement of former president Dmitri Medvedev after the 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Russian public opinion, however, is notoriously volatile and sentiment could change rapidly once Russians understand that the seizure of Crimea will have a serious economic cost. This message will be clear to the Russian population only over time. But the Russian leadership will notice the atypically tough words buried in an anodyne speech from a normally overly accommodating president.

Russia is now locked into a confrontation with the West from which there is no easy exit. Putin cannot withdraw from Crimea without sacrificing the popularity the invasion was intended to provide. The U.S. cannot ignore the invasion without inviting further aggression and undermining the entire international system.

After six years of “reset,” Obama has finally grasped that trying to be “friends” with Russia does not work. Under these circumstances, Putin can only treat Russia as a “besieged fortress,” cutting it off from the international system and setting the conditions for his regime’s eventual demise.

Related Articles

The Populist-Conservative Split over the Trump Family-Leave Plan

Ronald Radosh

Whether or not one sees this as a cynical move by Trump to get the women’s vote, the issue itself is not without merit....

Continue Reading

Our Press Falls Down on the Job Again

Walter Russell Mead

Some more questioning by the media as to why Libya has turned out to be such a colossal disaster would be welcome....

Continue Reading

Why Pakistan Sticks to its Guns

Walter Russell Mead

Communal tensions in India suggest to the military and intelligence elites in Islamabad that the rising power of Islam will lead to India's undoing...

Continue Reading