Nothing expresses Putin’s determination to humiliate Obama as much as the kidnapping an Estonian intelligence officer in Estonia and abducting him to Russia only hours after the president assured the Baltics of Western protection. Max Fisher at Vox says: “This is bad: Russia ‘abducts’ Estonian officer after Obama says US will defend Estonia”.
On Friday morning, less than 48 hours after President Obama delivered a speech in Estonia warning that Russian aggression against Estonia could trigger war with the US and NATO, Russian security forces have seized an officer with Estonia’s state security bureau at gunpoint and taken him into Russia.
Estonia says the officer was kidnapped (or “abducted”) on Estonian soil and taken across by force. Moscow says the Estonian officer was on Russian soil and detained with a gun, 5,000 euros and “materials that have the character of an intelligence mission.” Nearby Estonian police radios were reportedly jammed during the incident.
Investor’s Business Daily writes, “less than 48 hours after President Obama vowed to “defend Estonia,” Russian goons kidnapped an Estonian cop to demonstrate just what U.S. red lines are worth. Any questions as to the nature of the threat?”
The Daily Beast adds, “the incident comes at an extremely delicate moment, just as the United States and NATO try to convince the front-line members of the Alliance that have solid protection from Russian territorial ambitions.”
The sleight-of-hand invasion of non-NATO Ukraine over the last several months has raised fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will claim in the Baltic States, just as he claimed in Crimea and the Donbass region, that the large Russian-speaking population needs to be protected, separated and inevitably annexed to a reconstituted Russian Empire.
The Estonian statement implied the alleged abduction is an intentional slap in the face to the Americans. “The incident comes two days after a visit to Estonia by U.S. President Barack Obama and in the middle of NATO’s summit in Wales,” it said. Apparently there have been “airspace violations” reported as well, including over Finland, which is not a member of the Alliance.
Russia’s strategy has been malevolently brilliant, psychologically at least. Faced with an occupant of the Oval Office who lives by words, Putin is screening a silent movie. The Ukraine is being invaded by stealth. Estonia is being attacked by subterfuge. Finland is being intimidated in pantomime. Putin is riding dirty without making a sound. The visuals are unambiguous, but since there’s no dialog, no musical score — because there’s no words — the president is unable to respond.
And this is intentional: Obama’s boundaries are all on paper and Putin refuses to cross the lexical frontier.
Katie Zezima, writing in the Washington Post captures the contrast between Obama and Putin’s styles. She writes, “president Obama brought back ‘hope and change’ this summer — and exported it to Estonia”. Like a one-trick orator you can almost see president Obama rising to his full height and reaching a peroration that has served him so well in the past.
“We’ll be here for Estonia. We’ll be here for Latvia. We’ll be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before,” Obama said. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”
Splat. That was the kidnapping. The rotten tomato is all over the great speaker’s face. And in the audience, Vladimir Putin sardonically asking, “who threw that?”
Putin has drawn a Red Line he reckons Obama won’t cross. By speaking pointedly of Russia’s nuclear weapons and boasting his armies could reach Kiev in a couple of weeks, he’s made it clear he wants to mix it up. He’s rolled up his shirt and cut himself a few times across the abs just to demonstrate he doesn’t mind bleeding. He has all but dared Obama to cross the line from words to risky action.
Putin is betting, with the calm calculation of a professional thug, that he’s dealing with a tenderfoot unused to getting hurt and losing teeth, who may squeal as he strips him of his possessions, but who will acquiesce anyway — out of fear, out of civility, out of unfamiliarity with pain and the astonishment of someone actually laughing at him.
Like a tiger who’s tasted blood, Putin has lost his fear of Obama. Unless that caution can be reinstated, and unless that dangerous animal is caged, a very great danger faces the world; for now the tiger, who earlier could have been cowed with but a little effort, must now belatedly be forced back at grave risk and possible injury or death.
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