Julia Ioffe writes: Sunday night, Vladimir Putin went on national television and explained his decision to slice American diplomatic staff in Russia by two-thirds. He was retaliating for Barack Obama’s December expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, as well as newly passed congressional sanctions, by kicking out 755 American diplomatic staff—a response over 20 times stronger than Obama’s original retaliation for Russian election meddling. But Putin sounded calm and humble, like a disappointed parent who has no choice left but to send a recalcitrant child to military school. “We were waiting for a long time, thinking that maybe something will change for the better; we kept hope alive that the situation will change,” Putin said. “But judging by everything that’s happened, if something’s going to change, it won’t be soon.”
This is Putin’s way of dressing up a bad situation: try to sound like the sole adult in the room, even as you actively make the situation worse. It’s what Putin did, for example, in Syria, financing and arming the Assad regime while calling for peace talks, then stalling and dragging them out as long as possible, all while taking the same resigned yet exasperated tone of the peacemaker stymied by unruly children.
Because the fact is, the situation is bad, for Moscow and for Washington, and it’s been exacerbated by both sides. [Continue reading…]