Domestically, President Obama would face a very difficult situation in any confrontation with Vladimir Putin. With the economy top priority, it's unclear just how much preparation President Obama would make in such a confrontation. Russia has already rattled sabres with little notice.
President Medvedev ordered missiles to be stationed up against Nato’s borders yesterday to counter American plans to build a missile defence shield.
Speaking within hours of Barack Obama’s election, Mr Medvedev announced that Russia would base Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad – the former German city – next to the border with Poland.
He did not say whether the short-range missiles would carry nuclear warheads.
Taking advantage of the world’s attention on the US elections, Mr Medvedev also cancelled plans to withdraw three intercontinental ballistic missile regiments from western Russia by 2010.
In his first press conference, President Elect Obama fielded questions related to the economy, consultation with former Presidents, and even about the potential Presidential pet. Yet, there wasn't one question about Russia or its latest provocative act.
President Obama would be in a no win situation in such a confrontation. His base would demand pacificity in any confrontation with Russia. This posture would only be reaffirmed by his European partners. If he decided to confront Putin, he would likely be on a political island. That's because his opponents wouldn't trust him no matter his actions on foreign policy. His base would scream bloody murder at anything near a military confrontation.
It's likely all of this has been processed by Putin himself. The Europeans now have a partner that would re affirm their weakness. The performance of Nicholas Sarkozy in the conflict in Georgia is a precursor to their behavior in any future conflict. The instincts of everyone, short of Putin himself, in any such conflict would be toward weakness.
Putin, I believe, fully understands all of this and he is itching to take advantage of it. Obama's penchant for moral relativism (in the conflict with Georgia and in general) would only add fuel to the fire. If President Obama called for both sides to show restraint like candidate Obama made in the immediate days of the crisis with Georgia, it would make anything but appeasement near impossible. Finally, Putin the thug would not be handcuffed by any of the constraints that the leader of a civilized nation would be constrained by. As such, Putin could roll in tanks, commit genocide, and destroy the Ukrainian infrastructure, while a President Obama and his partners searched for a "peaceful solution to the crisis".
All of these confluence of events lead to the perfect opportunity for Vladimir Putin. Putin is not merely a thug. He is also a veteran of geopolitics, the KGB, and the world stage. He knows how to read people and geopolitical opportunities. Here, there is a geopolitical opportunity for Putin to attain that which he covets, power. Putin sees in Barack Obama a weak foreign policy novice with a penchant for moral relativism. He sees the Europeans as weak as well. The opportunity is there for Putin, and I'm afraid he will take it.