The current rift between Russia and the United States is “primarily a Putin problem,” former Sen. Richard Lugar said of the Russian president.
Lugar, an Indiana Republican who served six years as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined The Daily Rundown Thursday to talk about U.S. – Russia relations. The relationship has been icy lately; President Obama canceled a planned meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, following tensions over NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Lugar noted that the transition in 2012 from President Dmitry Medvedev to President Putin affected the relationship between Russia and the United States because Medvedev wanted more U.S. cooperation than Putin has shown he wants.
Furthermore, Lugar explained that Putin is reacting to tensions brewing within Russia.
“President Putin feels challenged by the young people who are still coming out in the streets. There’s a very difficult mayoral race going on in Moscow which indicates that things are changing in Russia. People are listening to their cell phones and TV and so forth. And Putin is threatened by this,” Lugar said.
Lugar said that these insecurities motivate many of Putin’s decisions, including his position on Syria.
“He sympathized with Assad, I believe, in Syria, because he realizes Assad is an authoritarian leader and he’s not about to see authoritarian leaders brushed aside, including himself,” Lugar said.
Despite the current tension between the United States and Russia, Lugar believes that the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics may provide an opportunity to improve relations.
“Conceivably Sochi may be another breakthrough in terms of good relations simply because it’s in a very vulnerable geographical position,” Lugar said.