Cheney: ‘No Question’ Putin Believes Obama is Weak

By Patrick Goodenough | March 9, 2014 | 9:00 PM EDT

President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on Monday, June 17, 2013. (Evan Vucci/AP)

( – Former Vice-President Dick Cheney said Sunday there is “no question” Russian President Vladimir Putin believes President Obama is weak. In response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, he said, there are steps the U.S. could take to send a “strong signal” to European friends and allies that America honors its commitments.

“I think there’s any – no question he believes he is weak,” Cheney said in response to a question on CBS’ “Face The Nation” about Putin’s assessment of Obama.

“We have created an image around the world, not just for the Russians, of – of weakness and indecisive – the Syrian situation’s a classic. We got all ready to do something, a lot of the allies signed on. At the last minute, Obama backed off.”

Cheney was referring to the state of affairs last fall, when Obama threatened punitive military strikes in Syria in response to a deadly August chemical attack blamed on the Assad regime. Struggling to win congressional support, Obama backed away from the threat after Russia mediated a deal to have Damascus hand over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction.

Cheney also cited Obama’s “reset policy” with Russia, and his decision to shift course in 2009 on a ballistic missile defense (BMD) program strongly opposed by Moscow.

He said Putin’s actions in Ukraine – where Russia now controls the Crimea region and is supporting its reincorporation into the Russian Federation – amounted to an “egregious violation” of Moscow’s commitments to recognize the boundaries of the former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states after the Soviet breakup.

“Putin is simply ignoring all of those commitments. I don’t think he should be able to do that without paying a price.”

Asked what the U.S. should do, Cheney criticized the Obama administration for taking any options “off the table.”

“There are military options that don't involve putting troops on the ground in Crimea,” he said.

“Reinstate the ballistic missile defense program in Poland. He [Putin] cares a lot about that,” Cheney said. “Conduct the joint military exercises with our NATO friends close to the Russian border; offer up equipment and training to the Ukrainian military.

Steps like those would “convey the notion, especially to our friends in Europe, that we keep our commitments,” he said. “So far that’s in doubt.”

“It’s a matter – much a matter of sending a strong signal that the U.S. will keep its commitments to our friends and allies. That’s been in doubt for some time now because of the policies of the Obama administration, and this becomes a crucial moment.”

The Bush administration planned for a BMD shield to defend its allies from the threat of long-range Iranian missiles entailed facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. As part of the “reset,” the Obama administration after a lengthy review in 2009 abandoned the plan in favor of what it called a “smarter, safer and swifter” approach, focusing on a short- and medium-range missile threat.

In the event, Russia continues to oppose the alternative proposal and it remains a major thorn of contention between Moscow and Washington.

Pro-Putin demonstrators hold posters reading "Crimea is Russian land!" as they gather near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Referendum looms

The administration’s response to the Ukraine/Crimea crisis so far includes suspending participation in preparatory meetings in the run-up to a G8 summit Putin is due to host in June; suspending military-to-military contacts and bilateral economic dialogue; and deciding not to send a presidential delegation to the Paralympic Games in Sochi.

The Pentagon also announced an expanded participation in NATO air policing mission over the Baltic countries, and stepped-up joint aviation training with forces in Poland.

On Thursday Obama issued an executive order that creates the authority for sanctions against individuals and entities “responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” No targets have yet been named.

Also on Thursday, a visa ban was instituted blocking travel to the U.S. of “officials or other persons who have been complicit in or responsible for supporting actions which threaten the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

The State Department says it cannot by law name those on the visa ban list, but hinted that Putin was not among them.

Crimea’s local parliament has scheduled a referendum for next Sunday on the question of reincorporating the region into Russia.

The U.S. agrees with Ukraine’s government that such a step would violate Ukraine’s constitution; any such vote would need to be taken by country as a whole, not just the inhabitants of the region seeking to secede.

Putin on Sunday reiterated his support for the referendum plan.

“The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula,” the Kremlin quoted him as saying.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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