WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama needs to look "two or three moves out" as he weighs his response to Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, former defense secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday.
Gates, a Russia expert and former CIA chief, portrayed a difficult path for Obama in which European allies may "huff and puff" but fail to match rhetoric with strong action and where Russian President Vladimir Putin feels he has the upper hand.
"From Putin's standpoint, he's in the catbird's seat. He's put himself in a position where we need him in terms of the Syrian chemical (weapons) deal. We need him in terms of the Iranian nuclear program," said Gates, who served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011. "We need the Russians in terms of getting our (military) equipment out of Afghanistan."
Asked how he would advise Obama in the crisis in Ukraine, Gates pointed to lessons from Russia's war with Georgia in 2008, when he said Washington wanted to react with more forceful economic and political measures than EU allies did.
"We ran the risk of being the ones who would be isolated because we favored a much more aggressive response than any of our (European) allies did," said Gates, who was President George W. Bush's defense secretary at the time.
"So that's one of the things the president's got to look out for."
The standoff in Ukraine has created the greatest moment of tension between Russia and the West since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an event Putin once called the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.