Oh by the way, Russian troops are massing on the Ukraine border

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Wednesday August 24th, 2016

Putin has no fear of a certain U.S. president, nor of the woman who wants to succeed him.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Ukraine's split from the Soviet Union. Happy news! Those of us who remember the astonishing events of 1991 will certainly understand the joy Ukrainians feel about this wonderful event in history.

We also understand their nervousness about the possibility that life out from under the thumb of Moscow may not last much longer. The Russians are getting aggressive again, with troops massing on the Russia/Ukraine border and Vladimir Putin concocting rationales for yet more aggressive behavior against his neighbor, which is helpless to defend itself in large part thanks to the neglect of one Barack Hussein Obama:

The Kremlin’s buildup includes deploying the S-400 air-defense system in Crimea and air and naval assets in the Black Sea, while conducting tank exercises in the Russian-occupied strip of Moldovan territory called Transnistria. In May the Kremlin formed a new motorized rifle division in Russia’s western Rostov region, which borders Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Mr. Putin has also refused to grant the Kiev government control over its eastern borders, as he was required to do under last year’s Minsk II Agreement. As a result, he can reinforce his proxies in eastern Ukraine with troops, materiel and missiles of the sort that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.

Then there is the Kremlin’s rhetoric. Moscow earlier this month accused Ukraine of dispatching saboteurs to Crimea in an attempt to destabilize the peninsula ahead of Russian parliamentary “elections” next month. The accusation suggests a classic Russian disinformation operation. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said a military mobilization is possible and warned the West not to rule out a “full-scale Russian invasion” of his country.

That makes Washington’s blasé reaction all the more dangerous. The Pentagon believes the Russian buildup is a routine drill, though drills have been used historically as covers for invasion. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden urged both sides to show restraint in a call Friday with Mr. Poroshenko, as if Kiev is guilty of any provocation except self-defense. President Obama has refused to provide Ukraine with the kinds of defensive arms that might deter the Russians.

At what point during the Obama presidency has Putin hesitated in any way to make a move he considered in Russia's strategic interests, but that would violate the sovereignty of another country or otherwise wreak havoc on the world? Never. Because Putin has no fear of anything Obama might do to make him pay a price for it.

And this goes a lot deeper than Obama's refusal to arm the Ukrainians, or even his disinclination to send U.S. troops to intervene.

Obama's left-wing defenders will always frame the issue as a choice between going to war with Russia over Ukraine or doing absolutely nothing. Of course we don't want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. But deterring a strategic rival has to do with a lot more than your willingness to send combat troops or supply guns and bullets.

Obama has shown little interest in pursuing U.S. interests across the globe, or in asserting U.S. leadership and seizing opportunities to consolidate U.S. power. Putin has noticed. If the Russians valued their economic or trade relationship with us, they would think twice about crossing us. If NATO was a strong and vibrant organization, the Russians would have to seriously consider the costs of possibly picking a fight with it. If Russia's attempts to pursue its agenda in Eastern Europe or in the Middle East had resulted in any sort of setback or had exacted any kind of price, they would surely be less inclined to make similar moves elsewhere.

But Putin sees how Obama operates. He scoffs at notions like "American winning" and on the rare occasions when he declares a red line, he backs away as soon as the red line is crossed - putting him in such a fix that he needed none other than Vladimir Putin to bail him out.

The bottom line is that Obama neither cares to assert U.S. power nor feels much concern about Russia's assertion of its own. The result? Putin, a man who understands the raw pursuit of geopolitical power, goes and takes what he wants. Why shouldn't he? Who's going to stop him?

America has become weak on the world stage. No one fears us. Some of you isolationists may see this as a good thing because you're worked up about "empire building" or being the "world's policeman." But U.S. global power prevents the rise of hostile rivals who threaten our interests across the globe. When we retreat from the world and refuse to assert this power, our rivals run wild.

I have no idea if Putin plans to take Ukraine completely or just cause mischief there. But I know his decision will not be influenced in any way by what the United States wants, unless and until we get our heads screwed on right and elect a president who understands the use of American power and the necessity of it.

And that's not Hillary Clinton, the author of much of Obama's current foreign policy and the person who has vowed to continue it. That would be a dream come true for Putin, and a nightmare in Ukraine and in many other places where the Russians have set their sights - for lack of any counterveiling force to slow them down.

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