White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was playing checkers, not chess, the latest in a series of attempts to paint Putin as weak.
In a question at the White House press briefing, a reporter implied that the stalled talks between Russia and America are a part of Russian strategy. She asked whether the White House would walk away with Russia’s stalling tactic in mind, or whether the administration believes that Putin will follow through on the U.S.-Russian agreement for a political transition in Syria.
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"The White House says that the preferred approach has to be diplomacy, whether it is military-to-military talks, or if it’s a political transition, that diplomacy is the foot forward. All of that is stalled," she said. "There are no talks on the calendar, military-to-military, or diplomatically at this point."
"One could look at that and say the Russians could be playing for time and tilting the chess board toward their guy. Does the White House walk away thinking that right now, or is the jury still out on whether Putin is following through on this agreement?" she asked.
Earnest was quick to debunk the claim that Putin was a chess player.
"There is one premise of your question that I would disagree with. I don’t think President Putin is playing chess—he is playing checkers," he said.
"He is making a series of tactical decisions that are leading to a starkly negative strategic conclusion, which is that by making the tactical decision to ramp up their support for the Assad regime, Russia is being sucked into a sectarian civil war, essentially a quagmire, that poses a whole set of risks to Russia’s interests not just in the region but back at home," Earnest said.
The White House has been working to reverse the popular image of Putin as a political mastermind who has the upper hand in international disputes. The administration is facing heavy criticism from the public, which sees Obama as ‘desperate’ and ‘scrambling’ to keep up with Putin.
Critics were especially aggravated by Obama’s weakness last week, after Putin gave the U.S. an hour’s notice before launching airstrikes in Syria. The strikes followed a day of talks between Putin and Obama, during which both sides agreed on a political transition in Syria.