Putin outflanks his foes at home, Obama abroad
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By By Marc Bennetts - Special to The Washington Times
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin is giving proof to the proverb, “Nothing succeeds like success.” Since facing massive protests last winter, he has stifled nearly all domestic dissent and implemented widely criticized anti-gay laws as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
He has put the brakes on Ukraine signing a free-trade and political association deal with the European Union, and persuaded Syria to allow international inspections of its chemical weapons.
He met this week with Pope Francis before the “leader of the free world” — President Obama — could secure an audience with the rock-star pontiff.
He even has been awarded a ninth-degree black belt in taekwondo — a level higher than that of action movie icon and all-around tough guy Chuck Norris.
Voted Forbes magazine’s most powerful person in the world (supplanting the now No. 2 Mr. Obama), Mr. Putin, 61, has not ruled out a fourth presidential term that could see him remaining in the Kremlin until 2024. “Right now, there are no visible threats for Putin, either at home or in the international arena,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the well-connected editor of the journal, Russia in Global Affairs. “This has been a very good year for Putin indeed.”
The high point of Mr. Putin’s year came in September, when the Kremlin derailed Washington’s plans for military action against Syria over the suspected use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, who Russia has strongly backed in Syria’s 2-1/2-year civil war.
While Mr. Obama was fretting over Syria crossing a “red line” over chemical weapons, Russia took advantage of an offhand comment by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and persuaded Mr. Assad to open his chemical stockpile to international inspection. The move boosted Russian diplomatic credentials and help prop up Mr. Assad.
“Putin has a clear world view, and he operates within this in the international arena,” said Mr. Lukyanov. “His politics have been much more defined than those of the United States, whose foreign policy in the Middle East, for example, has been both chaotic and incomprehensible.”
Other Russian analysts were far more biting.
“Putin is feeling very confident after his success in the international arena, which is very much down to the unbelievable weakness and stupidity of Western leaders, above all U.S. President Barack Obama,” said Andrei Piontkovsky, an analyst and Putin opponent.
“Putin knew exactly what he wanted in Syria — to keep Assad in power. Obama didn’t know what he wanted at all. Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, are far more experienced than Obama and Kerry. Lavrov simply dominated talks.”
A newly resurgent Putin is also seeking to regain control over a number of former Soviet states, with Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine facing Kremlin pressure to back away from closer ties with the European Union. Ukraine’s backtracking earlier this month on a landmark trade and cooperation deal with the European Union came after Russia threatened unspecified economic measures against its neighbor.
“Putin knows there can be no return to the Soviet Union,” said Mr. Lukyanov, the analyst. “But he reacts quickly to Western attempts to draw former Soviet states further into European integratioRead more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/28/putin-outflanks-his-foes-home-obama-abroad/#ixzz2lwtBBkIp