As the United States watches Russia, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that the gridlock and lack of international leadership in Washington, D.C. was becoming the greatest national security threat facing the United States.
Gates’ comments came during an appearance on CBS’s "Face the Nation."
"I think the greatest national security threat to this country at this point is the two square miles that encompasses the Capitol building and the White House… I think that other countries are watching us very carefully," Gates said. "Other countries, whether it's Russia or China or Iran or North Korea, are looking to see if what they perceive as our withdrawal from international leadership presents them opportunities down the road that they can take advantage of."
While Gates contended that internal politics were the United States most significant concern, he also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to back away from Ukraine and the Unites States needed to engage in a "long-term game."
"I don’t think he’ll rest until there’s a pro-Russian government in Kiev. Or a federated Ukraine where the eastern part of the country, for all practical purposes, looks to Russia," Gates said.
"Our president is in a tough spot," Gates continued. "We really have very few tactical options. There really is no military option, and in the short term there’s not a lot we can do. My view is if Putin’s playing a long-term game that’s what we need to do, and we need to figure out how we can push back on the periphery of Russia in terms of making sure those states have the independence to choose with whom they want to ally or have economic relations."
On Sunday, voting began in parts of Eastern Ukraine. The referendum, held by pro-Russian rebels, is said to determine whether or not two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, want to become independent of Kiev.
The majority of the international community does not consider the votes to be legitimate.
Current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resisted calling Russia an enemy on ABC’s "This Week."
"It's easy to categorize an enemy. We're not at war with Russia. So do you define an enemy as being at war or not at war?" Hagel said. "An adversary in Ukraine, sure, but I think that’s a little simplistic to get into either enemy, friend, partner, so on."
Gates suggested the threat of Russia is not confined to Ukraine, noting that he was concerned that Putin would next utilize economic influence in the Baltic states.
"Russia has essentially an economic stranglehold on those countries, and so my worry is that he will begin to exercise that influence, and I think one of the contingency things we in the West need to be thinking about is what kind of an economic safety net can we create for the Baltic states so they have a choice other than knuckling under to Russia."
Last week, Putin declared he was pulling back Russian troops from the Eastern border. Officials and lawmakers confirmed that none of Putin’s action indicates that he will or intends to pull back troops.
"The only thing we’ve really seen is that they’re pulling troops out, but for the sole purpose of rotating out their conscripts. They have two-year conscription there in Russia. Those two years are up for a lot of those forces along the border, so they’re really rotating them out," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) said on CBS’s "Face the Nation."
Hagel similarly confirmed, "They’re not leaving, as far as we can tell."