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Has Obama's foreign policy emboldened Putin?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 2:34 p.m. MDT

Ukrainian recruits receive instructions from a commander in a recruitment self defense quarter at Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, in this Tuesday, March 4, 2014 file photo. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine's border to return to their bases as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow fired warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers.  (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press) Ukrainian recruits receive instructions from a commander in a recruitment self defense quarter at Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, in this Tuesday, March 4, 2014 file photo. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine's border to return to their bases as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow fired warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press)

The Russian incursion and seizure of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula is in clear violation of international law, writes The New York Times’ Roger Cohen.

Cohen goes on to say that for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the breakup of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, and he is aiming to resurrect it. He says President Barack Obama “must lead” and make good on his promise that “Putin will pay a price” for breaking international law.

Many are asking what propelled Putin into acting in Ukraine.

“American weakness didn’t encourage Putin to invade Ukraine,” according to The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart.

Beinart writes that there are two narratives that criticize the president: first, that Obama has caused America to retreat around the world and, second, that America’s retreat has emboldened Putin.

Beinart says, however, the reality is quite the opposite.

“From Putin’s perspective, in other words, the United States hardly looks in retreat,” he writes. “To the contrary, the post-Cold War period has brought one long march by America and its allies closer and closer to the border of Russia itself.”

Whether America is in retreat, Obama’s continued “weakness emboldens Putin,” according to The Washington Post’s Marc A. Thiessen.

Following Obama’s inaction in Syria and failing to fulfill his promise there, Putin gained steam off Obama’s weakness, writes Thiessen.

“When your adversaries believe you are weak, they are emboldened to act — and prone to miscalculate. Putin believes there will be no real costs for his intervention in Ukraine because there were no costs in Syria,” Thiessen says.

More costly, Thiessen says, is that failure to follow through on threats against Russia will only “embolden adversaries from Beijing to Pyongyang to Tehran — all of whom are measuring Obama’s resolve in Ukraine.”

The Washington Post’s George F. Will says the Obama administration is misreading Putin and misreading history.

Unless Obama finds some leverage on Putin, this failure will permeate his presidency, Will writes. If Obama doesn’t stand up against Putin, “his precipitous slide into Jimmy Carter territory will continue. As an expression of disdain for a U.S. president, Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula is symmetrical with Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion of Afghanistan late in Carter’s presidency.”

As Will writes, Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky once said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Erik Raymond is experienced in national and international politics. He relocated from the Middle East where he was working on his second novel. He produces content for DeseretNews.com. You can reach him at: eraymond@deseretdigital.com @RaymondErik

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