In a new NPR interview published Monday morning, Obama dismissed those who hailed Vladimir Putin as a crafty world player when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
“Three or four months ago, everybody in Washington was convinced that President Putin was a genius and he had outmaneuvered all of us, and he had bullied, and strategized his way into expanding Russian power,” Obama said, according to NPR’s transcript. “Today, I’d sense that — at least outside of Russia — maybe some people are thinking what Putin did wasn’t so smart.”
Earlier in the year, the Russian government forcibly annexed Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine. As a result, the US and others leveled economic sanctions against Russia. The Obama administration also accused Moscow-backed separatists, still active in other parts of Ukraine, of shooting down a Malaysian passenger jet over the summer.
Obama didn’t name his critics, but many prominent Republicans lambasted the White House for being insufficiently tough in the face of Putin’s aggression. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is considering a run for president in 2016, said Obama was a “kitty cat” next to the Russian bear.
“Back in Washington there’s a diet that is now very, very popular,” Cruz said, joking. “It’s called the Obama Diet. Works very, very well. You simply let Putin eat your lunch every day.”
However, in part because of a global decline in crude oil prices, Russia is now facing a financial crisis, and the ruble’s value tumbled to new lows in December.
“Right now, everyone [in Moscow] is trying to buy dollars, but you can’t buy them just like that — you need to pre-order them,” a person who requested anonymity told Business Insider earlier in the month. “It looks like no one is trusting the banks anymore.”
In his NPR interview, Obama credited US sanctions for ensuring Putin’s actions would be a “strategic mistake.”
“I said at the time we don’t want war with Russia, but we can apply steady pressure working with our European partners, being the backbone of an international coalition to oppose Russia’s violation of another country’s sovereignty, and that over time, this would be a strategic mistake by Russia,” he said.