EU Chief: Putin Was ‘Unpleasantly Struck’ by Obama’s Slighting of Russia as a ‘Regional Power’

By Patrick Goodenough | August 28, 2018 | 4:17 AM EDT

Russian President Vladimir Putin observes joint Russia-Belarus military maneuvers in the Leningrad region in September 2017. (Photo: The Kremlin, File)

( – Russian President Vladimir Putin was “very unpleasantly struck” by a dismissive comment President Obama made in 2014 to the effect that Russia is a “regional power, the president of the European Union’s executive Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said in a weekend interview.

Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, suggested that Obama’s comment was inaccurate and disrespectful.

“My friend Vladimir Putin – because we have been friends for years, even though these days you cannot say that Putin is your friend – was at the time very unpleasantly struck by President Obama’s one sentence, when he said that Russia is only a regional power,” he told the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw.

Juncker contended that Russia is clearly not a regional power, adding, “We must learn to speak to the Russians on an equal footing, at eye level.”

The European Commission president went on talk about Russia’s resentment about the eastward expansion of NATO. He recalled how Luxembourg under his premiership had joined Germany, France and the Netherlands in 2008 in blocking President George W. Bush’s push to invite Georgia and Ukraine to begin the NATO membership process.

It would have been a big mistake, Juncker said, expressing doubt that Ukraine will ever join the transatlantic alliance.

“We must restore contact with Russia,” he said. “Russia is a big player. There is no security agenda for Europe without Russia. I do not like the current Cold War rhetoric.”

Obama’s March 2014 characterization of Russia as no more than a “regional power” occurred in the context of the unfolding Ukraine crisis, just days after Putin formalized the annexation of Crimea following a referendum not recognized by much of the international community.

During a press conference in The Hague, Obama was asked whether the 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney had a point when he described Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” (He was mocked by Obama during the campaign for doing so.)

Obama reaffirmed his rejection of that view.

“With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia is our number-one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America has got a whole lot of challenges,” he said.

“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors not out of strength, but out of weakness,” Obama continued. “The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.”


Obama, whose earlier attempt to “reset” relations with Moscow had demonstratively failed, disputed that Russia posed the number one national security threat to the U.S.

He was far more concerned about the prospect of a nuclear bomb being detonated in Manhattan, Obama added, referencing the focus of the event that had taken him to The Hague that day – a nuclear security summit.

A day later, Obama gave a speech in Brussels, where he said that Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, “leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

Almost two years after Obama described Russia as a “regional power,” Putin said in an interview with the German newsmagazine Bild that it was a mistake for the U.S. to refer to Russia in a pejorative manner in an effort to underline its own exceptionalism.

“When it comes to the term ‘regional power’ I recommend looking at the world map,” he said. “In the west, our region is Europe. In the eastern region, Japan and the U.S. are our neighbors, with Alaska. In the northern region we have a border with Canada over the Arctic Ocean,” he said. “What region are we speaking about?”

“An attempt to speak disrespectfully about other countries is an attempt to prove one’s exceptionalism by contrast,” Putin said. “In my view, that is a misguided position.”

The Russian president also said that he does not claim the role of a “superpower” for his country, saying that doing so would be costly and meaningless.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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