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'Opportunistic and Ruthless Aspiration'

9:41 AM, Mar 26, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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That is how former secretary of defense, Robert Gates writing in the Wall Street Journal, describes what drives Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Ukraine, the Baltics, and any other region where he considers Russians interests and international reputation at stake. He is motivated by a massive grievance, which, one suspects, is further stimulated when his nation is dismissed as a “regional power,” as the president did yesterday.  

Putin wants Russia’s former power (and what he views as its glory) back and operates from:

… a dramatically different worldview than the leaders of Europe and the U.S. He does not share Western leaders' reverence for international law, the sanctity of borders, which Westerners' believe should only be changed through negotiation, due process and rule of law. He has no concern for human and political rights. Above all, Mr. Putin clings to a zero-sum worldview.

Mr. Gates lays out a forceful case for why Putin must be resisted and what it will take:

… Western investment in Russia should be curtailed; Russia should be expelled from the G-8 and other forums that offer respect and legitimacy; the U.S. defense budget should be restored to the level proposed in the Obama administration's 2014 budget a year ago, and the Pentagon directed to cut overhead drastically, with saved dollars going to enhanced capabilities, such as additional Navy ships; U.S. military withdrawals from Europe should be halted; and the EU should be urged to grant associate agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.

And on the likelihood of that happening, as things now stand, Gates does not, characteristically, dodge the realities.  The crisis, he writes, comes:

… at a most unpropitious time for the West. Europe faces a weak economic recovery and significant economic ties with Russia. The U.S. is emerging from more than a dozen years at war and leaders in both parties face growing isolationism among voters, with the prospect of another major challenge abroad cutting across the current political grain. Crimea and Ukraine are far away, and their importance to Europe and America little understood by the public.

Gates is a realist. But not a defeatist. On the question of what can, if anything, be done, he has some thoughts. To appreciate them, read the whole, thing.

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