At this point, it is widely accepted that the relationship between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin was, at best, frosty and, at worst, adversarial.
After eight years, it’s clear that the two men did not see eye to eye, with Putin repeatedly rebuffing Obama’s attempts to have Russia conform to his foreign policy agenda.
The specific events and exchanges which caused their working and personal relationships to deteriorate are often lost in the narrative of the Trump/Putin Best Friends Forever narrative.
How did this:
“We think there’s an excellent opportunity to put U.S.-Russia relations on a much stronger footing.”-Barack Obama, July 2009.
Devolve into this:
“The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us," he said. "They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are."-Barack Obama, December 2016.
These are not the words of a person who has respect for Vladimir Putin, even if Obama is not completely off-base in the content of his comments.
Though it was Obama’s farewell press conference, with no further obligations to Russia to concern himself with, the indictment of Russia has a certain level of disrespect that exemplifies the contentious nature of U.S.-Russian relations, both in words and actions, under the Obama regime.
As the 2009 statement would indicate, everything seemed peachy between the two leaders at first, but their meeting at Prime Minister (he runs the country regardless of title) Putin’s summer home in 2009 came before any real negotiations or potential disputes between the two countries were in play.
It is easy to be cordial when merely exchanging pleasantries.
It was not easy to be cordial, however, when Russia had spent 2008 gradually ramping up military aggression toward their neighbor Georgia. The small nation nuzzled below Russia’s Southwestern border has been in and out of Russian control since 1918, with its 1991 declaration of independence formally releasing it as a member of the Soviet Socialist Republic.
Many Russians, including Putin, see Georgia as an extension of Russia with ethnic ties to the Motherland. The international community, however, sees formal independence as, well, independence.
This aggression was a major reason Obama made comments in early July of 2009 stating that Putin had, “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new,” adding that Putin was using, “cold war approaches” in dealing with the United States.
What Obama apparently did not consider is that Putin’s primary job with the KGB was to monitor foreigners in Leningrad. Not exactly the type of guy inclined to trust the words of an American president, much less one he is unfamiliar with.
It was a sign that Barry was out of his depth, unprepared to deal with a leader of Putin’s strength.
Having Hillary Clinton present an actual “reset button” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was laughably awkward, a child-like interpretation of how trust is built between foreign powers with already tenuous relations.
Between his inauguration in 2009 and 2012, the Obama regime largely avoided Putin, as his appointed puppet President Dmitry Medvedev kept the seat warm for Putin’s 2012 return. That election itself was controversial due to accusations of election rigging, excessive campaign spending using state money, and the lack of a competitive field.
You know, because anyone who dares to seriously oppose Putin tends to end up missing or in prison.
We never said the President of the United States had to like the guy, just handle with care. He’s not a guy a president would be wise to antagonize.
Upon Putin’s confirmation as President, Obama signed off on a U.S. law that banned 18 high-ranking Russian government officials from entering the United States while also freezing their assets. This was done in response to an American lawyer dying in a Russian prison, and many saw it as justifiable, but not punitive enough.
Russia responded by banning American officials from crossing into Russia, also putting a ban on Americans adopting Russian children.
Thus the Obama doctrine is illuminated: do enough to antagonize and/or insult foreign powers, but don’t actually accomplish much, if anything.
He injected this policy of pointless antagonism into his rhetoric when he publicly characterized Putin in August of 2013 as, “looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
This was apparently meant to portray Russia as an unwilling partner in negotiations, but Putin naturally took the comment personally, penning an unprecedented column in the New York Times lamenting American intervention in foreign conflicts.
For those paying attention, he was clearly speaking of Syria, the most prominent point of contention between Obama and Putin.
While Obama made numerous comments that the two nations were working together in an attempt to stabilize the Syrian conflict, it was apparent to most that they had vastly different motives.
Here’s a taste of Putin’s thinly veiled threats to escalate their role in the conflict:
“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation…”
While Obama repeatedly decried Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s attacks against his own people, evidence emerged that Russia was conversely providing precision ground-to-ground missiles to Hezbollah, and in turn the Syrian dictator.
Nobody is suggesting that the United States should condone Russia’s backing of a ruthless dictator, but treating them as an ally in attempting to de-escalate the conflict was grossly naïve.
While the two came to an agreement in June of 2016 regarding the Syrian conflict, it simply amounts to a promise from Russia to urge Assad to slow attacks on Syrian rebels.
Putin and Obama had a dick measuring contest, and Putin won by a landslide. (I know, you might have expected that result to go the other way, sterotyper).
It was clear by 2013 that the relationship between Obama and Putin was irreparable.
Obama wanted Putin to adopt his views, to be somebody other than a President with unmatched machismo and a KGB mentality.
Putin wanted Obama to treat him with respect publicly and privately.
Neither man got their wish, and the bitter relationship lasted until the very end of Obama’s presidency. In fact, it still hasn’t ended, with both men likely to hold animosity toward the other for the foreseeable future.
That tends to happen when two leaders with fundamentally different worldviews and political approaches refuse to bend a bit in the name of compromise.
Plus, Vladimir Putin is singlehandedly responsible for Hillary’s use of an unsecured server for government business, the DNC’s rigging of the Democratic primary, and the majority of America rejecting everything that Barack Obama stood for as a president.
Whether Donald Trump’s working relationship with Russia’s indomitable president bears more fruit than Barack Obama’s remains to be seen, but indications are that Trump has a more realistic vision of what to expect from Vladimir Putin.
Some advice, assuming Donald is reading: Don’t mock his appearance, refer to his “Cold War tactics,” and know that he is not going to bend to your will.
With those nuggets in mind, let’s toast to four years of Russian baby adoptions by Americans, free travel by government officials back and forth, and (at least for the time being) an end to the public mockery of each other.
We’re never going to be best friends, but we’ll be damned if we can’t just get along.