Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto

Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting the better of the West in the dispute over Ukraine, The Heritage Foundation’s Kim Holmes writes in Foreign Policy.

That’s because he’s consistently managed to outmaneuver the United States and our allies, Holmes explains:

Could it be that Putin has grasped the meaning of the strategic standoff with the West better than we have? Has he figured out an approach — do we dare call it a strategy? — that minimizes our strengths and his weaknesses to achieve his objectives?

I think he has. Whether it is written up in some grand strategy document, I seriously doubt. But whether playing the game by instinct or following some plan (in the end it really doesn’t matter which), Putin is taking a page from the doctrine of asymmetrical warfare. He’s minimizing his weaknesses while turning the strengths of his opponents against themselves. The aim is not merely to control Ukraine as much as possible but to force the West to accept new terms for the European order and for the international system at large.

Holmes concludes with a call for tougher sanctions on Russia and a renewed focus on strengthening the NATO alliance. Do you agree? Tell us in the comments?

Comments (47)

Dave - May 6, 2014

It would appear Putin is more adept at accomplishing his goals than the Obama Administration is with its goals. Of course, it could very well be the Obama Administration secretly doesn’t care what Putin does and is simply putting up minor resistance in the form of threats against a few well placed individuals. Perhaps, this is the “more flexible” tactic Obama referred to in his conversation with Medvedev prior to the last election.

Michael Dillon - May 6, 2014

Putin may be out-maneuvering the West, but we tend to forget that Obama told Medvedev to tell Putin that he would have more flexibility after he was re-elected. I believe Obama is fully cooperating with Putin, but is acting like he is fighting him. Don’t forget his open-mike statement!!

Dave Bailey - May 6, 2014

While the point about Putin using asymmetrical warfare tactics looks valid, we shouldn’t view it as some earth-shaking revelantion. In fact, it’s nothing more than what we should expect of any nation that is uncomfortable with the American global hegemony, of which there are many.

This article punch line *should be* that the Obama Administration doesn’t appear to understand this obvious situation and has been blindsided by not just Putin’s behavior, but also China’s, Iran’s and the Islamist forces in Libya, Egypt, and Syria as well.

Obama’s management of U.S. diplomatic and military assets has been analogous to that of a person who has been handed a top-quality rifle, but has never shot a gun before and has no desire to shoot.

In other words, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Katheryn Zalar - May 6, 2014

I strongly urge anyone confused about these matters to read the book, Disinformation, written by Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa and Prof. Ronald J. Rychlak. Pacepa was a former spy chief, #2 to a Romanian president. Much about Putin is in the book, with more about the KGB “science of disinformation”… or, lying. The book shows us Putin’s thinking and intentions. R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, wrote, “This remarkable book will change the way you look at intelligence, foreign affairs, the press, and much else besides.” Regardless of the strength of the Russian economy, the information in this book reveals that KGB tactics and strategies are alive and well all over the world today, including within our own government. The book is a page-turner and eye-opener.

Darrel - May 6, 2014

I agree that Putin is making a mockery of the west and Obama.

Blane P. Richoux - May 6, 2014

I believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of a weak president as in president Obama and is not threatened by a perceived weakened U.S. Foreign policy and U.S.Defense, thanks to the actions or in-actions of our current president and his constituents!

William H. Hounshell - May 6, 2014

Putin is acting intelligently and rationally. I can’t say the same for our president. The US and EU have been attempting to draw a noose around USSR/Russia for decades. We are getting too close for Putin’s comfort. Our president seems to be ignorant of Russian history. Other than the Black Sea, Russia has only two ice-free ports-Murmansk and Vladivostok. Check out the Russian Black Sea Fleet; it’s pretty huge. If Obama or anyone else believes that Putin will tolerate a NATO Ukraine controlling his access to the Black Sea Fleet, he must be stupid.
The Crimea in now permanently a part of Russia, and Putin will not stop until he has GUARANTEED land access to Crimea. This will require at least Russian annexation of eastern Ukraine or a permanent friendly eastern Ukraine rump state.

John Shewmaker - May 6, 2014

Putin seems to have a carefully thought-out strategy to slowly dismember Ukraine and expand Russia towards its old boundaries. First send in the Spetsnez (special forces) to start a revolution with the help of native Russians who would prefer to rejoin Russia. Then, when the Government responds, make sure there are deaths and casualties so that those with Russian backgrounds are encouraged to call Putin and request help. When the uproar is loud enough it will be time to send in the troops who are well located, trained and armed. Do not kill anyone during this operation if at all possible. worked in the Crimea, why not in eastern Ukraine — the conditions are similar. What will the US or NATO do? The Russians are merely responding to cries for needed help. Economic sanctions will rebound with shortages. of

Tom Yunghans - May 6, 2014

If we signed a treaty to protect Ukraine, we should stand by it. If we don’t plan on honoring treaties we should not sign them in the first place. Obama is making us look like fools.

Mary - May 6, 2014

I absolutely agree. Putin has figured out the weakness of the Obama administration. He has paid attention to the reneging on promises,the waffling and the fecklessness and has decided that he can go his own way with impunity. Shame on those responsible!

Jon Exner - May 6, 2014

I just wonder what putin would have thought and done if immediately after this whold saga began president obama would have announced that construction of the anti missel defense shield was to begin within the month.

John Schwartz - May 6, 2014

Yes, sanctions that cripple Russia’s economy to prevent its current expansionary policies from continuing. Postponement will only encourage Putin further and make matters much worse later on, not excluding military conflict. As a European living in the USA, it’s clear to me that Russia has returned from the visionary Gorbachev to the traditional czarist format of central and expansionary rule. Facing an aging population and fossil-fuel based economy without strong industrial diversification, Putin uses western weakness and decay to regain Russia’s territorial status for political might. Eventually this will lead to unrest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which will be much more costly to the West, in particular Western Europe, in terms of military expense, than Western Europe’s temporary energy squeeze resulting from sanctions. The US and Canada can help by providing energy to Western Europe and blunt the Russian energy threats. Piecemeal application of weak sanctions won’t.

mike - May 6, 2014

Obvious as the sun coming up in the morning. America is pictured as weak and we are being exploited because of that. Not rocket science.

John Chapman - May 6, 2014

As I remember in college some 60+ years ago, the way to keep peace was the concept of “Balance of Power”
And, the USA has lost that dramatically with the present administration..

Var St. Jeor - May 6, 2014

It is true, Putin is out maneuvering the West and the US. Put ignorance in office and ignorance is the result. But it is worse than that, if I understand correctly. Russia, China, Iran, Japan, N. and S. Korea are building their military arsenals on all fronts. They are literally building for war. What is the US doing? We are eliminating military funding, reducing our navy, army, and all the rest, reducing our implements of war, reducing our military man power, reducing our ability to protect ourselves. We were once # 1, no military could take us on and expect to win (if the rules of engagement were not in the way as they have been in all wars following WW2). We were the #1 world power, and a non-aggressive world power. That kept things in balance; that kept things in check. If we are not there already, we will very, very soon be there, that the US is or will soon be downgraded to the #3 world power, with Russia and China being #1 & 2. And now… we are giving away the internet, US developed, US controlled. It is as if Obama is paying tribute to the King in hopes (even bagging) he will leave us alone. Here, here is a valued gift, please, please leave us alone, please don’t hurt us.

PAUL - May 6, 2014

BHO very publicly showed his disdain and disrespect for the USA when he initially ran for office of President. He was unable to hide his 20 some years of hatred for America when his church attendance and relationship with Reverend Wright were revealed. In his early years he was exposed to Communist dogma, and subsequently sought out socialistically oriented individuals. For whatever reason, the media refuses to ask, “Why?”
In particular, “Why did you run for President if you hate the United States?” The answer should smack any of us right across the face! The answer has to be, “So I could most effectively punish the USA.” He has indicated he does not think the USA should be the most powerful, most advanced, greatest nation in the world. So, now he has the power to counteract all our outstanding characteristics. Consider what he has done wherever you look: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Lybia, now Crimea and Ukraine. (At home he has caused us to suffer Obamacancer.) The list just goes on. Recall his presumed secret remark to Medvedev of reducing the U.S.missile defense in deference to Russia. All obviously a part of his big game plan. BHO is surely helping Putin re-establish the USSR. And, Putin is taking full advantage of it.

Don Worden - May 6, 2014

Lawmakers also listen to those who contribute the most to their reelection campaign. Staff members too often have personal goals of being hired by a lobbyist. There is an obvious way for them to incur favor while their politician is distracted by other “politics”.

pastor George Lucas - May 6, 2014


Joan Noonan - May 6, 2014

Mr Putin has an advantage because of the policy Pres Obama has. Our leadership isn’t leading very well for the good of our country or the common good. I don’t think it is a matter of incompetence as much as it is a plan for the US to not be the leader of the free world–I think Pres Obama wants the US to be weakened as a world power, and see the rise of other countries and freedom to our disadvantage.

Michael J Donnelly Sr - May 6, 2014

The gorilla in the closet whose mention even is forbidden is the fact that 6 years of evidence consists of a mountain of evidence that our President has so much hatrred of “America, the Land of the Free” and wishes so much to establish “America the liberated land of social justice” that he is willing to jeapordize his homeland itself. The man conducts war upon children so visciously that his character itself is frightening.

Roger Leese - May 6, 2014

The anti-Russian bias in the US is rampant. However, when one does independent due diligence on Ukraine from other sources, a far different story emerges. The real story is that the US has been the real aggressor and is moving very close to Russia’s border. If the US and NATO control Ukraine and install missiles they would only be 400 miles from Moscow. Russia has done nothing wrong in this situation and the US is seriously threatening their security. American citizens need to get a better understanding of the real problem which is US imperialism. The US will be responsible for restarting the cold war with this behavior, not Russia.

Jim Keller - May 6, 2014

With Obama a weak person with little if any intelligence about foreign policy Putin will continue to lead Europe over United States influence.

Beverly Kottwitz - May 6, 2014

Don’t poke the bear…they have nukes. Please keep up in our own hemisphere. Ukraine wants to be Russian, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be. Let Europe and China protect them if they think it’s necessary. Let’s mind our own problems at home in the U.S.A. As my grandmother wisely advised: “Sweep your own doorstep, before you start sweeping someone elses.”

I’d much rather be helping Mexico get clean drinking water and better garbage disposal. Our neighbors need our help. Maybe the illegals will self deport if they can go back to a better homeland in Mexico and Central and South America.

Less law!!!! More Enforcement!!!

Beverly Kottwitz
Houston TX

Chase` - May 6, 2014

This is a well-stated opinion, with which I fully agree. My sense is we would be at a tremdous disadvantage to inject our military into Mr. Putin’s backyard, where he is already fully poised to act with overwhelming force. We should never underestimate this man! He is running rings around the current-pathetic, reactive USA policies.

Tom Rutledge - May 6, 2014

Yes Putin is consistently gaining the upper hand over the US and consequently the West, Europe and NATO alliances. He knows we are not will nor capable of a direct Russian – US confrontation and Europe is so much “comfort” oriented that he has them in the palm of his hand at the hint of gas/oil reductions. When Russia invaded Georgia we didn’t even put our units in Europe on alert and we didn’t do it this time when he invaded Ukraine. What we should do is call his bluff and go to high alert throughout Europe along with NATO forces and start building up our forces in Europe and Turkey and the Mediterranean.

dalyrymple - May 6, 2014

Mr. Putin knows that Hurricane Barry will do nothing militarily, so he is not worried. He also does not believe in the Hoax that is manmade climate change. Because of that he controls a lot of fuel that he will use against the inept European socialist morons who depend on him for their warmth in the cold winters there. Hurricane Barry has declared war on American fuel production, and will not help the idiotic Europeans with their fuel needs. Mr. Putin sees the inept, moronic, idiotic West for what they are, and he will succeed in putting the Soviet Union back together again….Maybe Hurricane Barry is actually enabling this fellow Marxist, and we don’t realize it…

jeffrey walker - May 6, 2014

with no solid policy for dealing with real global issues.this predident’s vision is a joke and dangerous for our republic.

James - May 6, 2014

I disagree. Putin has moral authority and righteousness. He fell into it. He went in to protect ethnic Russians and the use of the ports at Sevastapol, the only warm water ports the Russians have. The West seems to be promoting an Act of Aggression. The Russians are defending the status quo. While the West is trying to close the noose around the Kremlin. The defender will always be seen as the righteous participant. The West’s claim to defend truth, justice and the American way just doesn’t float.

Nelson Whipple - May 6, 2014

Our leaders do not care what Putin does and he knows it. Most of the followers don’t have an idea about what is going on in Crimea, Ukraine or Benghazi; They want to be left to work, play, and be entertained without having to THINK about serious matters. Will we all end up in chains? I suspect so and our government is busy fashioning them as we watch the NBA.

carlos solana - May 6, 2014

the only reason why putin is taking advantage, is our president is a pro communist

William Perry Wortman - May 6, 2014

We need to shut down NATO. Why should we pay 75% of their expenses with a one way obligation to go to war for them? We need less obligations, less expenses. We are broke but no one seems to care. Also, bring our troops home from Germany, Japan, Korea, etc. We cannot afford Empire.

Charles J. Rice - May 7, 2014

Putin has determined our Community Organizer in Chief hasn’t a clue how to deal with a hard liner, so he’s taking the hard line. Putin is essentially playing Cold War Chess like his Soviet predecessors. And BHO is playing intramural jacks.

Lynn - May 7, 2014

You ask: “Holmes concludes with a call for tougher sanctions on Russia and a renewed focus on strengthening the NATO alliance. Do you agree? Tell us in the comments?”
Answer: Heck Yes

Strimpugie - May 7, 2014

Our president and his policies have made the US a country of ridicule. Is Russia becoming the choice of truth and justice?

John Stankowich - May 7, 2014

This is the result of Stalin’s plan of Ukraine Genocide from the 20’s, 30’s, and World War 2. We ignore history!

Albert Blank - May 7, 2014

Totally agree….but it’s not hard for Putin to run rings around us given the naivetee of the Obama/Clinton/Kerry teams, and the self-directed demobilization of our forces, and the periodic presidential stated disinclination to resort to any new combat to face up a challenge!

Dr. Bill Bysinger - May 7, 2014

I am amazed at how we have forgotten how to execute good foreign policy. Having lived in Europe in the 1960’s when the Cold War was at its height, and being an Army veteran (during Viet Nam) this shocks me to the quick. Just because we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan due to terrible policies and not really fighting in either place a real miltary driven war, this country has become a pacifist, islolationist nation again. Just as before the 2nd world war. We need to be firm with Putin, we need to provides Arms, military advisors, and munitions to the people of the Ukraine. Putin only understand strength with actions. I do not believe these weak sanctions will work. We should announce that we are going to begin exporting natural gas and if we can open up more drilling in the west we plan to go head to head with OPEC in exporting oil as well over the next decade. Natural Resources and decisive military commitments can end this, without these types of actions we will be negotiating with a person who could care less about being a nice guy and he will continue to do this across the old eastern block. Reagan knew that peace without strength does not work and for some reason these current “Gutless” politicians only listen to and poll the liberals and pacifist independants. I felt safer when I was in Israel in 1999, then I feel today in the United States. I also have empathy for the Urkraine who we helped dismantel militarily and now want to ignore in their darkest hour.
Obama and his administration, including Kerry are a joke on the National Stage. They do not understand strong foreign policy and want to weaken our will to stand up for small nations. We used to understand this, but since the 1990’s we have become a weaker willed nation. even 911 did not give us the resolve to continue act with strength. How soon we forget and move on to isolationism. God help this country.

Fred Wilson - May 7, 2014

Given a ex community organizer and a ex KGB colonel where would you place your money?

All Obama is doing is running his mouth and making a bad situation worse. I am not sure it is in the EU best interest to get in a spat with Russia and I have to ask whether this is our concern or is this just wagging the dog to distract from the failure of the ACA and the morbid economy.

John Huston - May 7, 2014

I’ll say it again, Putin will take as much as he thinks he can get away with. Eventually this means all of eastern Europe if we let him. The US resisted getting into a fight with Hitler till Japan attacked us. Waiting made it much harder and costlier. This time it is lack of European support and a US president who doesn’t know what he is doing because he wants to treat everything like a “neighborhood organizer.”

Andee - May 7, 2014

Putin has his own way of dealing with sanctions; they may hurt him; however, he can hurt the EU a whole lot worse and it will spread from there. Obama knows this and Kerry, why should he care, after all, he is guilty of treason himself and before he was even in the position he should not be in!

Andee Ferguson - May 7, 2014

Of course, the empty suit is playing with Putin; his goal is to hurt America as badly as he can and this is one way to do it; he is playing with fire, Putin holds the cards; the EU cannot stand to do too much, he can hurt them very, very badly; the empty suit knows this and the treasonous Kerry truly does not care nor is he smart enough to handle Putin.

Holly Chapo - May 8, 2014

Yes, I agree with tougher sanctions and strengthening the NATO alliance. But that is not all. Upping our natural gas and oil production would put even greater pressure on Russia particularly if we can import to the European countries now dependent on Russian fuel. We also need to strengthen our own military so we are a real force in the world. But does anyone believe that with this weak president any of the most effective methods will be instituted? Look at his refusal to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, his war on coal, his war on fossil fuels, his war on the military and his non-existent foreign policy. We may have solutions but without leadership that is in sync with those solutions, we are whistling in the wind.

felix westwood - May 8, 2014

This whole situation is the result of western overreach.
NATO has no excuse for existing today and serves only to aggravate Russia needlessly.

War mongering morons like John McCain should be prevented from going to sensitive areas!

Wroots - May 8, 2014

Mr. Putin is more intelligent, more experienced, more rational, and more statesmanlike than Obama, that idiot of a prime minister in Canada, or the vast majority of leaders in the EU; in fact, Angela Merckel is the only one who comes anywhere close to matching his leadership abilities. No wonder he has chosen to communicate with her rather than with some cowboy issuing threats all the way from the other side of the Atlantic.

Mr. Putin is not just outmanoeuvring Obama and the West: He is making them look like kids playing war games in the school sandbox.

Personally, I’d like to see more discussion around what the hell the US is doing in Eurasia anyway. It’s none of their business. Ukraine is neither a member of EU nor NATO so the US has no legal footing for being there.

I’d very much like to see an EU-wide referendum on whether or not to keep US troops in Europe. Even before the US caused the coup in Ukraine last November which led to the current dangerous situation, over half of Europe’s population wanted the US to leave, and about one-fifth were undecided. I think it would be higher now because Europeans know that the US was behind the coup and all the military build-up in the Ukraine. You can bet your last Euro that Mr. Putin knows this too.

emerson - May 9, 2014

this president is intellectually challenged for the task of Pesident of the United
States. this administration is staffed with people who are incapable, due to ideology and intellectual capacity, to perform their sworn duties. it is therefore no surprise that the former head of the KGB in russia is able to take advantage of a situation. obama has not only set race relations back 100 years he has now plunged us back into a cold war. where is the congress in holding him accountable to protect and defend the United States of America against threats both foreign and domestic? the new york times and washington post would already have skewed a conservative president for far less than obama has done.

Olgard Dabbert,MD - May 14, 2014

For the Russians, Putin is what Ronald Reagan was for us. Ukraine and Byelorussia have been Russian (until Stalin designed their autonomy in order to gain 2 more votes at the United Nations. They are strategically needed by Russia to be on their side.

Steve - February 5, 2015

Stop this man.

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