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Putin Won’t Be Eager to Please Obama

Adrian Blomfield of the Telegraph observes that Barack Obama will step into the White House facing drastically different circumstances than George W. Bush did in 2000 to kick off the next phase of the U.S.-Russia relationship, and that Moscow is likely to keep up the belligerent rhetoric.

Things have changed in the past eight years. It is unlikely that Putin, now Russia’s prime minister but still the country’s most powerful man, will be kept waiting when his aides call America to arrange a meeting with the new president. Nor will Putin be as ingratiating and eager to please. Then he was the president of a broken, penurious country trying to find its place in a world utterly dominated by the United States. Today he steers a country eager to reassert itself and ready to challenge America at a time when US influence seems to many in Moscow to be on the wane. No longer the supplicant, Russia is likely to try to test the new administration, probing its weaknesses in an attempt to humiliate its old Cold War foe. (…)

Brimming with energy-fuelled confidence and sitting on fat financial reserves, Russia will keep up the belligerent rhetoric. (…)Ironically, some commentators say the Kremlin is secretly hoping that the new American president will be hawkish on Russia and will maintain Mr Bush’s projection of hard rather than soft power.Mr Putin has been able to justify his authoritarian bent by convincing his people, often in an exaggerated way, that the United States is once again a threat to Russia. His speeches are peppered with references to unnamed powers that want to weaken or even break up Russia as part of a plot to seize its energy resources. (…)Both candidates were tough on Russia during the campaign. But, as is usually the case, caution may prevail now it is over. If Russia does decide to launch a relentless campaign of provocation, however, the world will once again be asking itself nervously how long Washington will able to remain patient?