What exactly is it that determines Obama's position on Russia?
President Barack Obama is the one person who can put an end to the Ukraine crisis, according to renowned Russian Studies scholar at Princeton, Stephen Cohen. He is the only figure with enough international influence, particularly on institutions such as the IMF and NATO, who could pressurize Ukraine into abandoning its ambitions of claiming back Crimea and securing the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. This may seem like stating the obvious, but one has to ask the question: why is there a lack of will on Obama’s part to do this? Indeed, if he is the philosophical, reasoned character as revealed in his autobiography The Audacity of Hope, where he explicity rejects American imperialism, why is it that under his leadership the U.S. has found itself moving from one geopolitical crisis to another?
We are all too aware of the ‘hawkish’ elements in U.S. politics, even in the White House itself where Obama’s policies have been deemed to be too ‘soft’. According to them, the U.S. should have openly began a militarised campaign in Ukraine against the ‘separatists’ some time ago. But it seems unlikely that a man brave enough to recently hint of a reassessment of gun laws would succumb to ‘neocon’ pressure on Russia. What we seem to be lacking is information on Obama’s own position on Russia and Ukraine. While there is plenty mention of it, for example, in Hillary Clinton’s memoirs, there is a real absence of it in Obama’s. Could it be that in absence of any personal understanding of Eastern Europe and Russia Obama has found himself at the mercy of some dubious. foreign policy advice? After all, in addition to operating a catastrophic policy towards Russia in recent years, he has made some particularly foolish comments:
“Russia doesn’t make anything.” - he is clearly forgetting that economic indices do not rely solely on manufactured goods. Aside from supplying a third of Europe’s gas, Russia is the world’s largest exporter of aluminium and semi-finished Iron.
“Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow for opportunities." - The UN Population division estimated in 2013 that Russia was second to the U.S. in terms of immigrant numbers.
“He ran the KGB.” - probably Obama’s most famous gaff. If Putin did control the Communist secret service, Obama seems to be the only one aware of this.
There are many more such unfortunate examples of ignorance. So what is Obama’s own experience of Russia? His first encounter with the ‘rodina’ was not great. As a senator, he was detained for three hours at a Russian airport in Perm in 2005 when visiting a nuclear weapons site. During his interrogation by Russian officials he was reportedly accused of espionage, funnily enough not even for the Americans, but for the British. Officials on both side had to intervene in order to secure his departure. What may seem like the normal stringent Russian border control procedures to anyone familiar with the country, to Obama this treatment may have made a lasting impression.
However, there’s obviously more to it than that. Personalities are important in geopolitics and it is clear that the specific relationship between Obama and Putin has never been warm. Although it’s not Putin’s style to make personal remarks, this has not stopped his adversary. With comments such as Putin representing "a deep strain in Russia" and stating that he "has a foot very much in the Soviet past" Obama has certainly not tried to endear himself to the Russian leader.
As long as there is a perception of ‘Russian aggression’ in the White House, this new Cold War will rumble on. One can only hope that the next U.S. leader will be courageous enough to defy the warmongers and have the sense to engage with the Russian leadership more effectively. Time will tell if U.S. politicians have the ‘audacity’ for ‘hope’ to bear fruit.
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