Author's note: President Obama had a 90-minute phone call with President Putin Saturday after troops entered Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. No official transcript was released. Here's my take on what might have been said, and what I hope Obama told Russia's president.
Obama: We condemn with the strongest possible words your invasion of the sovereign and independent state of Ukraine. If you do not withdraw immediately, there will be consequences. Nations don’t invade other nations in 21st century. The Cold War is over. You must understand your actions are not in Russia’s best interests.
Putin: Words are cheap, Mr. President. You and I both know you won’t do a thing to stop me in Ukraine. Neither will anyone else. I’ve replaced you as the dominant foreign power in the Middle East. I’ve got a close and growing closer relationship with Iran, which will become the dominant local power in the Middle East. You didn’t even notice it, but I left the Olympics for a day to fly back to Moscow during Olympics to sign an arms agreement with Egypt’s General Sisi. I’m recreating Greater Russia, and reclaiming lands we lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. And, as for my place in history? Winners write history, Mr. President, not whiners.
Obama: Okay, Vladimir, you’ve had your chance. I realize now that not standing up to you in years past has only whetted your appetite for more aggression.
So, I am reversing course. No more reset with Russia. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Now, let me tell you what I’m going to do from here on. I’m going to hit you where it hurts – crush your economy and make your borders vulnerable.
It won’t happen right away, it will take a few years, but once the momentum starts you won’t be able to stop it. And I’m going to do it by taking a page from your playbook. You have rebuilt Russia by exporting your energy resources: oil for revenue, natural gas for political influence. I’m going to do the same to tear you down.
First: I will reverse my decision to halt the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. America will go ahead as originally planned and build the missile shield, but an accelerated basis. That means U.S. military personal will be working alongside Polish and Czech military to construct and operate the systems. The missile shield is designed to protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but you get the point. Uniformed U.S. military will soon be stationed near the Russian border.
Second: I will reverse course on the defense budget. Your defense minister just announced Russia is negotiating basing rights in seven nations around the world. He also said you were rebuilding old Soviet era military bases in central Asia. Your parliament has just voted unanimously to invade Ukraine. In light of that, this is no time for my Secretary of Defense to announce we’re gutting our military.
Third: I will allow the Keystone Pipeline to go ahead, again on an accelerated basis. That will not only give a boost to the American and Canadian economies, it will start driving down the price of oil.
Fourth: I will give my wholehearted support for fracking and horizontal drilling. American energy companies will now develop the vast oil and gas resources that lie, literally, under our feet. We’ve seen the U.S. go from natural gas importers to exporters in less than five years and the price of gas fall accordingly. We will now do the same with oil. Analysts expect the price of oil could decline by 20%.
I don’t have to tell you what that means for the Russian economy. Your economy and government are solely dependent on energy revenues. You need oil above $90 to meet payroll. It should settle well below that within a few years time. And free markets are a great thing – they anticipate change and will start short selling you now. That will make it difficult for you to pay for food imports, subsidies, your military buildup, and of course the extremely expensive the Sochi Olympics.
Fifth: I will send a trade delegation to Poland and other countries in Central Europe to explore ways of helping them use fracking technologies to develop their own gas reserves. Chevron and Shell have already signed a $13 billion deal with Ukraine. I expect others to follow.
At the same time I will throw roadblocks in front of any American energy company that seeks to develop your eastern Siberian fields. Your existing oil fields in western Siberia have, maybe, a decade left. You need our technology to develop new ones. You’re not getting it.
Sixth: It’s time we refocus on Western Europe’s over-dependence on Russian natural gas. We will explore ways to export our newfound natural gas surpluses to Europe by underwriting building of LNG terminals to accept imports from America. And while we’re at it, we will reassure our NATO allies, especially those that used to be under Soviet control, that Article Five of the NATO charter is still valid. If you are setting your sights on them next, think again. It’s all for one and one for all.
Seventh: It’s high time we expand our relations with the oil and gas rich nations of central Asia. We will extend invitations to each of them to visit Washington, to see how America and American energy companies might work with them to build pipelines to get their energy exports to Europe and beyond bypassing Russia.
I will work my way down this list, announcing one new policy per week. It should take almost two months, culminating just before the G-8 summit you’re hosting in Sochi in June.
The result of these actions, as I’m sure you will appreciate, will devastate your economy. That will feed the small but growing anti-Putin sentiment in Russia as you are forced to cut back on subsidies and benefits for your people.
Your military will not be happy about the cuts you will have to make to their budgets. It will also breed political independence in the capitols of East and West Europe since they will no longer need to import Russian gas to survive. The countries on your southern border will be cut loose from your grip preferring their newfound relationships with America.
Mr. President, you’re a fine physical specimen of a man. You’re strong and healthy. You no doubt want to rule Russian for another decade. But the future you face is very different from the one you imagined.
So, I’ll offer you one last chance. We can have a different future, one that benefits us both.
First, we will let American energy companies help you to develop oil and gas deposits in Eastern Russia.
Second, we will encourage Western investment to develop Russian industry outside the energy sector. You are desperate to diversity your economy. We have the technical expertise and capital to help you.
Third, we have a common interest in fighting terrorism and radical Islam. We will be far more successful in our efforts if we do it together. Let’s work together to keep the Middle East at peace.
Fourth, we can have a mutual understanding that the nations on your borderlands should not be a launching pad for aggression against you any more than nations in the western hemisphere should be a launching pad against us. You can keep the Crimea as long as you allow Ukraine and other countries in the former Soviet Empire to continue along their own paths of independent governance. If they seek to join a Russian economic union, fine. If they prefer to improve economic relations with the West, that’s fine, too.
Finally, if nations of the former Soviet Union seek NATO membership, then we will offer NATO membership to you. We do not see NATO as an anti-Russian alliance, but a military and political alliance against aggression. Countries inside the NATO tent will not encroach upon each other. Countries outside the tent – be it in the Middle East or Asia – will meet a united front should they try to do so.
So, Mr. President, here are the two paths open to us. We can spend the next ten years at each other’s throats. If so, we will win in the end, because we can destroy you economically, just like we did in the 1980s and 90s when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Or we can spend the next ten years working in concert to the benefit of both our peoples and to the world. If so, we both win.
The choice is yours.
Don’t answer me now. Take a day or two to think it over, and call me when you’ve made a decision. But the deal isn’t on the table forever.
And, knowing you take your public image seriously, if you do take the deal, I won’t release the transcript of this phone call.
If I don’t hear from you within three days, I will release this transcript and start working my way down the list, one new initiative a week. Russians will know the looming economic disaster they face is thanks to you. And for added fun, I’m going to deny visas for your oligarch cronies. They won’t be spending their summer in the Hamptons this year.
Oh, one more thing. Some say we should boycott the G-8 Summit you’re hosting in Sochi in June. Or maybe kick you out of the G-8. Nope, I’d rather see you squirm in person. I’m coming, after implementing the steps I’ve outlined above. We will see who is smirking then.
But I’ve got a question, can we see the Crimean Peninsula from Sochi?
Sadly, that is not the real transcript of the 90-minute Obama-Putin phone call. The real conversation probably consisted of Obama lecturing Putin about what was in Russia’s best interests, and Putin ignoring him, instead daydreaming about what was next on his expansionist agenda.
President Obama prefers public speeches. President Putin prefers to let his actions speak for him.
Obama talks. Putin takes.