Speed Reads

Foreign affairs

Is Obama responsible for Russia's invasion of Ukraine?


Expect to hear this argument from hawkish types who have long criticized President Obama for his lack of global swagger. It goes something like this: Obama's failure to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for his use of chemical weapons was a flashing neon sign to Vladimir Putin that he could run roughshod over both Ukraine and the American president.

Marc Ambinder and David Ignatius shoot down this theory with considered arguments that start with the fact that Russia has a singular interest in Ukraine that has nothing at all to do with Syria.

But here's another argument. As we learn more about Putin's motivations, it has become clear that the Russian strongman, in the great tradition of paranoid autocrats, truly believes that the U.S. is the shadow force behind the popular movement that brought down the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian government of Victor Yanukovych. In other words, the invasion of Crimea is Putin's response to an all-powerful, omniscient America that is doing a full-court press on Russian interests across the globe, not to an America that is in retreat or leading from behind or whatever hawks want to ding Obama for.

Indeed, if Putin really believed Obama was so weak, he might have kept his troops at home.