Time reporter Simon Shuster appeared on On The Record tonight to discuss his reporting on how Vladimir Putin has been gaining strength with each new crisis. Shuster tried to explain to host Greta Van Susteren that Putin is playing on the divisions within Europe, not on the supposed weakness of President Obama that Van Susteren repeatedly suggested. But she seemed determined to paint Putin as a winner and Obama a loser and the heck with Shuster’s facts.
Shuster’s article clearly suggests that the problem of and solutions to Putin rest in Europe. He writes:
Putin’s designs, meanwhile, are far grander than Ukraine. He hopes the conflict on Russia’s western flank will create divisions within Europe that shrink American influence. His vision–which he referred to on April 17, at the peak of Russia’s euphoria over the conquest of Crimea–is the creation of a “greater Europe” that would stretch from Portugal to Russia’s Pacific Coast, with Moscow as one of its centers of influence. By creating problems like Ukraine that only he can solve, he puts himself in the center of European politics. Russia’s vast oil and gas resources–on which Europe relies–only add to his influence.
The U.S., in this scenario, becomes a rival rather than an ally of Europe. .
..What happens in the aftermath of the MH 17 disaster will test Putin’s assessment of declining American power. The coming days will determine whether the U.S. and Europe can form a united front against a country that virtually the entire world believes handed a loaded weapon to an unregulated militia. “We can’t do this unilaterally,” says a senior official in the Obama Administration. “We’ve got to work with the Europeans on a strategy to help contain Russia.”
But Van Susteren skipped right over Europe and framed the problem as a contest between Putin and Obama. And she seemed more than a little determined to paint Putin as the winner. In her introduction to the interview, she summarized Shuster’s article as, “Each new crisis makes Russian president Putin stronger and calling President Obama a ‘leader without leverage.’”
After getting a brief update from Shuster about rockets being fired into Ukraine from Russia and asking why Shuster’s cover story is called “Cold War 2,” Van Susteren started to suggest President Obama should be blamed:
VAN SUSTEREN: I don’t want to minimize this and use a sports term of “winning and losing” but let me ask you anyway. Right now, who looks the stronger? Who looks like he’s winning? Who looks weak, as we have this sort of Cold War eve with Russia?
SHUSTER: I think the greatest divisions are within Europe. The U.S. has come out quite strongly, unilaterally on sanctions but Europe has not caught up to the level of sanctions against Russia that the United States has imposed, even after the crash of the Malaysian Airliner. And they’re going to consider it again this coming week but there are just too many allies, too many Russian allies inside Europe… that are saying hold on, we don’t have enough evidence yet. Let’s hold off until the investigation is over. …And that is creating the kinds of divisions that really play into Putin’s hand.
That’s pretty much what Shuster’s article said, too. But that also seemed to go right past Van Susteren. She followed up by asking, “So does that suggest that Putin is getting stronger vis-à-vis the United States or vis-à-vis President Obama?”
Shuster replied politely and respectfully, though I wish he had called Van Susteren's maneuvering. He said, “I think he’s getting stronger domestically with every successive crisis because …every time we have a crisis, from Syria to Crimea, to Eastern Ukraine, that Putin is the man that all the western leaders are looking to for some kind of help for him to back off, for him to cooperate in some way. And the only tools they have are a slow ratcheting up of sanctions and to ask him, to keep demanding. And he really, I think, enjoys being in the center of the world’s attention that way and he keeps getting that role in geo politics.
Anyone want to bet that the role of Europe will get glossed over – if not ignored completely – in the next discussion of Russia and Putin?
Watch Van Susteren blatantly try to get Shuster to malign Obama below.
H/T reader Andy
In fact, something I’ve suggested previously is that all of the former Soviet republics with large Russian populations should put down the hammer with the prospect of forced deportation/repatriation to Russia (whether Putin wants the influx or not) of any ethnic Russian who places their Russian ethnicity above their being citizens of the FSR. Now, I’m not really sure if this would be acceptable under international guidelines but we’ve already seen how Russia doesn’t care about following the conventions of international law (in the wake of the illegal annexation of Crimea); while I understand the principle of “2 wrongs don’t make a right,” it doesn’t seem as though Mr Putin understands anything except ultimatums (ultimata?). And it would cause some difficulties in some of the countries (especially the Baltic states) with a sudden loss of ethnic Russians in many jobs but hopefully there are more ethnic Russians who are loyal citizens of their current countries than “Greater Russia” enthusiasts.
He’s making this all up day to day as he goes along. Destabilizing Ukraine ain’t exactly a useful long-term strategy that accomplishes much for him or for Russia, other than alienating and annoying the hell out of his other neighbors. The Russian empire isn’t coming back, and it certainly isn’t coming back through chaos and intimidation, which are the only weapons he can imagine.
He, and perhaps his successors, will continue to cause trouble from time to time, but that’s all they can do if they refuse to join the rest of the world.
The Georgian episode is instructive. John McCain and that idiot Saakashvili to the contrary, all Putin got out of that (which Georgia started, actually) was the absorption of a tiny, impoverished and troublesome semi-independent former Soviet republic that hated the Georgians historically, and it gained Russia absolutely nothing.
Putin is a classic paper tiger, and Obama is doing exactly the right thing by basically waiting him out and letting him screw himself by his own actions.
Very interesting perspective. I hope you’re right. We’ll see.
Putin has utterly bungled pretty much all of this post-Crimea, and has in no way whatsoever come out “on top” or “strengthened.” His stock market has collapsed and his economy isn’t far behind. Nobody outside Russia will trust him to give the time of day honestly.
Europe is stuck for now, but is very gung-ho about finding ways to decouple themselves from Russian oil and gas so they’re not stuck in this position forever, the vast majority of the Ukrainian people now hate his guts, etc., etc., etc. He’s gained nothing at all from this insanity, other than a few additional points on his already sky-high domestic approval— which he knows very well is thanks only to the relentless propaganda and lies of Russian “media” and means essentially nothing because he controls the entire Russian political apparatus anyway.
CNN or somebody pointed out that the most recent video of Putin sounding off surrounded by his cabinet showed a picture of very obviously extremely unhappy campers. Don’t know exactly what that means or portends, except that his top functionaries clearly don’t think he’s winning a damn thing.