Obama Versus Putin: Who Will Prevail?

The President of the United States visited Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. His message was a warning aimed at the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), rather than Russia.

Putin knows that there are Russian populations in those republics, and the head of the White House explained that they are more likely to be invaded by Russia. Moreover, Obama added, “You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”

Obama’s message was filled with fear rather than determination to stop the Russian offensive in Crimea. I suppose that not many European states are willing to take a gamble for the small Baltic republics, and that the latter, including Finland, might fall into the hands of a new Rasputin who wants to bring Mother Russia back.

Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently said that NATO would get special forces that “can travel light, but strike hard if needed.” This force, made up of some 4,500 men, would be located in Ukrainian territory to restrain the Russian expansionism.

I do not think these soldiers, however well trained or armed they are (even if they are backed by NATO), can control the immense and nuclear-armed Russian Army. Evidence shows that the NATO summit in Newport, Wales, entailed two results for the Ukrainian president Poroshenko: logistical support and the fact that European soldiers may be deterred.

Aha! And what is going to stop Putin? Will commercial and financial sanctions destabilize the Russian economy? Iran, North Korea and Libya experienced similar situations and they survived. As the world’s eighth largest economy, why wouldn’t Russia?

In any case, if the sanctions aggravate, European citizens will endure the consequences. I do not think they are willing to pedal bikes or freeze if Moscow cuts off gas or oil.

Vladimir Putin is now flying two flags: The first one proposes a peace plan with Ukraine; the second one makes display of his nuclear stocks at the same time he reminds his enemies of Russia’s powerful guns.

Is Putin nowadays going through the best moment in his career? Has he been ignored by the West? He is the leader of a gigantic power that has managed to rise up by shoving and keeps the whole world waiting. Both Beijing and Washington look at it with worry and fear. The uneasiness that Ukraine or the Baltic nations may feel is not less than that felt by Poland, Hungary and even Germany itself!

The Ukraine crisis is becoming similar to the missile crisis in October 1962, when we were on the verge of a nuclear disaster. Back then, the leaders were Kennedy (U.S.) and Khrushchev (USSR).

Today, it is worrying to know that the contenders are still the same ones: the two strongest nuclear powers. What good are negotiations to reduce nuclear arms if they are the first [weapons] to be brandished whenever a conflict breaks out?

President Obama’s declaration that “this is not another Cold War that we’re entering into … Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology” is valid. However, it does not reduce the possibilities of a war, nor does it diminish Russian power.

Europe and some former Soviet republics — nowadays free and part of NATO — are willing to risk everything not to be recaptured. That is why we said that the “Putin doctrine” would rewrite the Cold War so that he becomes the patriotic victor.

In truth, they were the winners of World War II!

Putin wants to draw attention to himself and find his own way by means of strength. Nonetheless, China, in a more intelligent way, does not want to devote itself to conflicts, and is reaching the summit of leadership by using only the market.

Would unearthing the shameful issue of the collapse of the Soviet Union and remaking it by becoming a hero as in an unfinished Tolstoy novel come to Putin’s mind? Would Washington take risks for minor partners? Who takes the trout from the grizzly bear’s neck?

President Obama, who is rekindling the story just like Putin, seems calm, sensible and impartial as John F. Kennedy did when the missile crisis took place in October 1962. and he faced Nikita Khrushchev, who ruled the Kremlin back then.

What will prevail in this crisis that seems to recur: Putin’s boldness or Obama’s serenity?

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