You have to hand it to Russian President Vladimir Putin; He tames wild animals shirtless, flies fighter jets (with a shirt on) and loves to roundhouse an audience with his mad Judo skills. If all this wasn’t enough, in December 2010 he played piano to raise money for a charity that supports children suffering from eye diseases and cancer.
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Mr. Putin is action man, nature lover and humanitarian all rolled into one. He’s also pretty good at getting his own way.
This ex-secret agent of the Soviet Union is now in charge of the entire Eastern Bloc and he rules with a well practiced iron fist. He is also formidable when it comes to foreign diplomacy, because he doesn’t have any.
Russia’s incursion into Crimea is a classic example of Putin’s single-minded persona. He makes no apologies for his actions, which leaves Western governments scrambling with outrage, but only able to issue sharply worded statements. Big deal.
In March of 2008 I was in Moscow to cover the Presidential “elections” even though we all knew that Dmitry Medvedev was the winner before the first ballot was cast. Giant billboards across from Red Square showed incumbent President Putin with his arm around Medvedev smiling down on Muscovites with a grin that said vote for this guy or else.
Putin has that same grin as the United States and European Union struggle to find consensus on exactly how and to what extent sanctions should be imposed on Russia, and it’s obvious that a gulf is now appearing in the Atlantic. Diplomats say it’s imperative not to antagonize the other side. What? Russia trampled over “antagonizing” when its troops seized Crimea.
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German leader Angela Merkel doesn’t want to isolate Moscow and in Europe there is growing belief that Berlin, not Washington, should be leading the talks. Merkel has spoken with Putin at least six times in the last two weeks.
Now President Obama is under growing pressure after insisting several times that “there will be costs” for Putin if he intervened in Ukraine. Putin has, and Obama has yet to follow through.
That’s not to say the Europeans aren’t under pressure to impose at least some punitive measures unless Russia makes some concessions such as pulling back its forces out of Crimea.
But it’s hard to negotiate with a country that denies what everyone else sees. Russian’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Western diplomats that Moscow could not order the forces controlling Crimea back to barracks because they were not under Russian control.
Lavrov claims the 16,000 troops are local “self-defense” units opposed to Kiev’s new government. I wonder if he managed to keep a straight face.
Any sanctions imposed will probably be more symbolic than anything else, and we know Putin will respond by targeting Western companies and individuals residing in Russia.
Vladimir Putin acts with impunity. He is skilled at fueling Russian nationalism and now he is creating rifts along Russia’s enormous border with former Soviet republics. His dreams of the old Soviet Bloc as a Super Power maybe just that but he is a force to be reckoned… with even with his shirt on.