U.S.-Russian relations have worsened considerably due to a number of factors, including the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The President spoke out on Putin and Russia during an interview with BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, during which he accused the Russian President of continuing to see the world through a Cold War lens. While geopolitical developments have certainly placed more strain on the relationship between the Cold War superpowers, could there also be a personal element at play?
From Medvedev to Putin
Obama enjoyed a decent relationship with Dmitry Medvedev, former President and current Prime Minister of Russia, and Smith asked if the worsening problems had anything to do with Putin’s character. Obama refused to “psychoanalyze” Putin, but did say that “he has a foot very much in the Soviet past” thanks to his formative experiences in the KGB and FSB.
These experiences have left Putin with a “Cold War lens” through which he sees the world, which has made him miss the opportunity to make Russia “represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression.”
Obama remains hopeful that relations can still be salvaged despite worsening tensions over Ukraine. “I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said.
Obama likens Putin to “bored kid”
The President then addressed issues with the Russian economy, which is going through a turbulent period due to economic sanctions and the global decline in the price of oil. “If you look at what’s happened to the Russian economy, even before oil prices collapsed, it is not an economy that’s built for the 21st century,” he said, perhaps alluding to the Russian reliance on commodity exports to balance its budget.
These latest comments are nowhere near as inflammatory as the statement Obama made two years ago, in which he compared Putin to a “bored kid in the back of a classroom.” The Russian President was reportedly infuriated.
It would appear that Putin has been showing some of the “Soviet-style aggression” of late. At the end of last year Putin alluded to Russia as a bear, and said that the West would “always try to put it in chains and … take out its teeth and claws, which in this case means our strategic nuclear deterrent.”
Putin, speaking in Sochi a few days ago, claimed that U.S. hegemony is a “pseudo-occupation, but we won’t put up with it.”