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Obama the Diplomat having Trouble Wrestling with the Russian Bear

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Dominic Dezzutti By Dominic Dezzutti
CBSDenver.com Blogger
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When President Obama was elected, a great cheer came from much of Europe. Collectively it seemed the diverse continent was very excited that the United States finally had a President that preferred diplomacy to rushing into war alone.

The thrill was at such a fever pitch that President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize based purely on the potential of his diplomatic charm and reason.

One of the after-effects of the George W. Bush presidency was certainly a desire from many in Europe for an America that would not wield a sword wildly, but would be more motivated to sit down like gentlemen when problems arose. For a world tired from many years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sentiments were understandable.

However, we are currently seeing the downside of a leader known for calm and rational responses and not known for his willingness to follow through with anything tougher than “sanctions”.

President Obama and Russian President Putin chatted this weekend regarding the Crimean “vote” but the talks made no progress towards a solution for Ukraine. Obama was clear about his threats of sanctions, but that threat means an entirely different thing to Russia than it does to a country like Iran.

Sanctions for an oil and gas rich country like Russia won’t exactly shutter the country’s economy. A great deal of Europe relies upon Russian oil and/or gas, and it’s not like those countries can simply decide to go to a different gas station down the road.

Also, Russia has significantly stronger relations with a customer to their south that makes the sanctions from the west far less threatening. If China were included, then yes, sanctions could actually be a threat. But without China’s participation, the sanctions aren’t likely to hurt much.

Putin is a former KGB officer. He’s not walking into this situation without doing his homework. He understands that he is dealing with an American president that is known for his diplomacy and not as a hawk. He also knows that while many leaders in Europe may be getting skittish over his actions in Ukraine, those same leaders are not in the position to do much about it.

This is not to say that the United States is stuck and must simply watch Putin create a new Soviet Union. But it is clear that President Obama must break out of his predictable cycle and come up with something far stronger than sanctions to negotiate with. Countries like North Korea and Iran respond to sanctions because they must. Russia, as any historian knows, only responds to something far stronger.

President Kennedy knew this lesson, as did President Reagan. It’s not easy to tussle with the Russian Bear, but sometimes a tussle is only what it will respond to.

The question now is will a President known for his calm, academic demeanor be willing to roll up his sleeves and get into the ring with a known street fighter?

The answer may tell us everything we need to know about the future of Ukraine.

Dominic Dezzutti’s Latest Blog Entries

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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