Putin's Challenge

Russia's not on defense

October 16, 2015

President Obama asked the media to explain how Russia is challenging U.S. leadership in the world, so we did.

Last week, a peevish POTUS asked 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft to explain "in what way" Russia’s aggression was intended as defiance against the West. The Obama administration has long asserted that Russia’s military adventures were the rearguard actions of an isolated country.

A brief tally of the consequences of recent Russian aggression, from its blitzkrieg of Crimea to its base building and bombing campaign in Syria, is enough to cast doubt on this narrative.

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine has solidified full Russian control of Crimea and its port at Sevastopol, from which its navy carries out operations elsewhere in the region—such as the transport of military equipment to Syria. Russia’s introduction of heavy weapons and 10,000 soldiers to eastern Ukraine has helped pro-Russian separatists fight the Ukrainian government to a stalemate, dividing the country and expanding the boundaries of territory that is effectively controlled by Russia.

More recently, Russia has begun a bombing campaign against the relatively moderate opposition forces in Syria, reversing the fortunes of the Syrian regime and strengthening the political position of ally Bashar al-Assad, in direct opposition to the U.S.’s insistence, repeated since 2011, that Assad must go.

Russia’s growing "anti-ISIS" coalition—an alternative to the coalition created by the U.S. to combat the terrorist group—now includes Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Cuba in varying degrees of commitment.

Far from being weakened by its actions, as the administration often claims, Russia is strengthening its ability to dictate world affairs despite serious domestic constraints. Russia’s behavior indicates that it is creating an illiberal coalition to oppose NATO and the West, a theory consistent with the rising tide of nationalism and Soviet nostalgia in Russia.

Kroft pressed Obama on this point in the interview.

"He’s challenging your leadership, Mr. President," Kroft said. "He’s challenging your leadership."