A trained KGB agent, Vladimir Putin knows how to hide his feelings, but in 2013, after former President Barack Obama described him looking like “the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” Putin let it be known that he was furious. And rightly so: kids in the back of the room are rarely ambitious. Putin, from day one of his rule 21 years ago, has had big, ambitious plans for himself and for Russia.
A far greater Soviet patriot than a Russian one, one of his first priorities when he became president in 2000 was to recover state ownership or control of the key political and economic assets lost in the Soviet Union’s demise: major industries, courts, media, national politics. Then, in his third and fourth presidencies, he turned his ambition to geopolitics: to incursions into Ukraine and Crimea, an alliance with Syria, and various assaults on Western democracies with what the KGB used to call “active measures” recast as cyberattacks.
Now, on the seventh anniversary of the Crimean Anschluss, many of the same vectors that produced the invasion of Ukraine are here again. Anticipating their trajectory and formulating a plan ought to be among the Biden administration’s main concerns.