My Take

Vladimir Putin's strongman tactics make Barack Obama look weak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 4:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 5:28am

You can call him Vlad the bad, you can ridicule his penchant for bare-chested bravado and criticise his lack of tolerance towards any opposition. But Russian President Vladimir Putin is proving to be the top dog on the world stage as he moves in to snare Crimea.

While the main reason he cites is the protection of Russians who live in Crimea, it is not too hard to figure out Putin's main concern is losing absolute control of Russia's key naval base there. Though its lease is valid until 2042, it is not very helpful if the country is under a government that is more friendly to the West than Moscow.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet empire, the United States has shaped world events. What Washington wanted, it got. But Putin has been slowly chipping away at this.

First he thumbed his nose at Washington by refusing to hand over former defence contractor Edward Snowden. Then he outmanoeuvred President Barack Obama as the Syrian crisis reached a critical point and let President Bashar al-Assad off the hook by forging a deal on Syrian chemical weapons.

Now with Ukraine, the Russian strongman is again flexing his muscles, and raising his approval ratings at home to a new high. European nations are not on the same page as the US on their approach to Putin. China and Japan have kept Putin in good humour with both Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe turning up in Sochi for the Winter Olympics.

Putin's rising stature may also shape how Obama's legacy is viewed in future, unless the pieces on the chessboard change dramatically. With less than three years to go in his presidency, Obama runs the risk being labelled one of the weakest presidents the country has had in years.

That could become a factor in 2016 when the US picks its next president. For a divided Republican Party, it gives an opportunity to come together on a platform that demands a strong leader like Ronald Reagan who can regain the lost status of the US. No wonder Hillary Clinton, the undeclared presidential candidate, has now become the toughest critic of Putin in the Democratic Party, likening his actions in Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler.

Putin, it seems, is not influencing Ukraine's future alone.

Alex Lo is on leave