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

On Policy, Trump and Clinton Are Different As Can Be

Irwin M. Stelzer

How both presumptive nominees would change the country's domestic policies....

Continue Reading

Trump Pulls Even in Race to the Bottom

Walter Russell Mead

The 2016 election is shaping up as a truly toxic mix of identity politics, negative campaigning and polarization for profit....

Continue Reading

A New Set of Crises for the EU

Brendan Brown

European monetary union and free movement of peoples from impoverished East to the rich West will likely be twins in death as they were at birth....

Continue Reading