Putin and his cronies are now openly mocking the United States. Under President Obama we are becoming a humiliation nation. Meaningless "sanctions," which amount to not even a slap on the wrist, are laughed at in Moscow. And the problem with sanctions is that Russia has options, too, like cutting off gas and oil supplies to Europe and making trouble in other former Soviet republics. Recently, Russian news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov took to the Rossiya 1 news channel to declare that Russia is the only country capable of turning the United States into "radioactive ashes." A picture of a mushroom cloud was projected on the screen behind him. Iran might see this bragging by Russia as a challenge to its own nuclear ambitions.
Understanding one's adversary is sometimes more important than defeating him, especially if one wishes to avoid armed conflict. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic collapse of the Soviet Union and occupied Eastern Europe. Putin clearly believes Russia was humiliated after the collapse and the American triumphalism that followed. But humiliation can cut two ways.
Russia feels slighted for not being recognized as a great power. In some sense -- though the analogy is far from perfect -- Russia reflects Germany's attitude after its defeat in World War I. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to disarm, concede territory and pay reparations. Hitler's rise to power two decades later was in large part due to his appeal to German nationalism and pride, which is precisely Vladimir Putin's appeal to the Russian people.
Putin has promised not to annex any territory beyond Crimea. We'll see if he keeps that promise. Meanwhile, it would be nice if President Obama led on this matter instead of making the United States the laughingstock of the world's dictators and to our detriment, perhaps some of our allies.
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