Russia’s brash Ukrainian incursion has put U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry squarely on the hot seat, and experts predict his response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, starting with a trip to Kiev tomorrow, gives him a chance to repair shaken confidence in America’s influence and define his own legacy — but could put him at odds with President Obama.
“When he tries to get tough, Obama will cut his legs out from under him, as he did in Syria,” said Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Kerry doesn’t want to be embarrassed again like he was in Syria. And if he gives any ultimatums, he knows Obama will back off.”
Kerry will meet tomorrow with Ukraine’s new government, installed after protesters ousted the purportedly corrupt leadership. Making the rounds of network shows yesterday, he called Putin’s pretext for invading Crimea — that Russian citizens and assets were in danger — “completely trumped up” and “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”
“President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here,” Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked whether Putin was emboldened by U.S. inaction in Syria. “He’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza. He is not going to have a Sochi G-8. He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble of the ruble.”
A Gallup poll last week found 53 percent of Americans think Obama is not respected by other world leaders.
Ford O’Connell, a GOP political strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, predicted both parties would line up behind Kerry if he finds a way to pressure Putin without escalating the situation.
“The world is watching, and this administration has consistently underestimated Putin,” O’Connell said. “This will be the biggest test of Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state, and how he handles this could ultimately define his legacy.”