Joshua Tartakovsky comments on Obama’s recent observations on Russia and Vladimir Putin in his Sixty Minutes interview
US President Barack Obama said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not operating from strength but actually from weakness and therefore he had to ‘invade’ Ukraine and is now operating in Syria. In his view, Russia does not know how to get out of the Syrian situation and is pushed to the corner. Putin is desperate, according to Obama, with no exit strategy. According to this perspective, Putin is simply trying to save his dignity by taking desperate moves.
Obama made several mistakes in his calculations, even grave ones.
First, unlike Obama, Putin does not think that to be ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ one has to invade countries when one’s country is financially comfortable in order to reap more benefits. Unlike the United States, arguably the richest country in the world, which can never put an end to its greed and invaded dozens of countries in past decades to satisfy the insatiable hunger of its military-industrial complex, Russia did not engage in offensive wars or in bombing for the sake of regime change and taking over foreign markets.
Russia believes in the moral cause of defense rather than offense, but when defending its interests it will fight until the end while the US can afford to turn many countries into a new Vietnam while remaining unscathed (besides a few thousands of coffins of soldiers wrapped with the star and stripes). So the very premise behind Obama’s words that the US is not weak because it bombs incessantly but Russia is weak because it resorts to help Syria is incorrect at its root.
Secondly, Russia most certainly has more than one exit plan and thought of various alternatives in advance. This is because, unlike the US approach which is to talk a lot but not always be able to back up what you say, the Russians tend think very carefully before they speak, but as in a chess game, plan ahead for several options while the US traditionally over and over again invaded countries with no real strategy whatsoever (besides drawing chaos which may have been part of the plan).
Thirdly, Russia provided aid to Donbass and intervened in Syria because it responded to US aggressive actions as the support for a coup in Kiev spearheaded by Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups and corrupt politicians, some of whom were very possibly behind a sniper massacre in Maidan (falsely blamed on Yanukovych), the Kiev junta’s bombardment of civilians in Donbass, and US support and aid for jihadist fighters in Syria in an attempt to bring down the secular, multicultural Syrian state.
So, yes, it is true, Russia is responding to American aggressions and is not in what the American government may consider ‘a position of strength’ which would be uncalled for aggression as a display of one’s power. However, at the same time, Russia tends to do very well in times of national emergencies and when faced by external pressures and if history is to serve as a lesson, Russia is going to become far more powerful due to the attacks of the US upon it.
This is since it operates from a clear moral perspective which its people are aware of (note how about 85% of the Russian public supports President Putin despite the sanctions), since it responds to US aggression rather than initiates the aggression and since it does not view suffering as something to be fearful of or mocked, as the West tends to do, but as part of a process from which one emerges stronger.
So, if I was Obama, I would actually be concerned about the fact that Russia is beginning to discover its self-confidence all over again because it is likely to flourish due to the hardships rather than becoming stifles or subdued. It is true that financially Russia is undergoing a difficult time, but this is forcing the country to invest and develop its own industries and all signs indicate that while this process is far from easy, it has already begun. Also, in its campaign against jihadists in Syria Russia made it clear that the sanctions seem to have zero effect on its military capacities.