Can we please stop describing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a venal, tin-pot-dictator stereotype?
He got his way on Georgia. He got his way on Syria. And, just recently, he got his way on Crimea. Each time, he did it with minimal effort while making Western leaders look like fools. Mr. Putin clearly understands the use of power — hard power, soft power, everything in between. So what did Anne Applebaum say about his motives in her March 21 op-ed column, “Russia, unveiled”? That “he need[ed] a war.”
That’s it? Putin reclaims a piece of territory with profound spiritual, cultural, economic and military significance for his country and, in the bargain, counters our attempts to pull his neighbor Ukraine into our sphere of influence, all without firing a shot — and we assume he’s wagging the dog?
Mr. Putin is no fool; he is a ruthless, ambitious autocrat, like Peter I or Catherine II. They, too, faced tremendous condescension from the West. But not for long.
Brayton Cole, Queen Anne, Md.
I find the political class’s hysteria over Crimea to be surprising. What did anyone expect Russia to do after the abrupt change of power in Ukraine: meekly acquiesce to further loss of influence? Surely an intelligent diplomacy would have managed changes in Ukraine in a manner that co-opted Russia, rather than pursuing the endlessly mistaken post-Cold War approach of driving Russia further into a corner — no good place for a wounded bear. Doesn’t the strategic management of international relations require a degree of mutual accommodation rather than a zero-sum game, especially when there is no realistic chance of winning the latter?
The United States faces far more serious threats elsewhere. Now NATO has “frozen” contacts with Russia again, including on such useful areas as combating terrorism. But once the dust has settled, it will be time for another “reset” with Russia — with the determination, one hopes, to see it through.
Michael Stopford, Washington
The writer was NATO’s deputy assistant secretary general for strategic communications from 2008 to 2011.