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Putin moves into Latin America while Obama dismisses Russia as ‘regional’

The Editorial Board of Investors Business Daily:

As Obama Dismisses Russia As "Regional," It Expands Its Reach
Russian warship Admiral Chabanenko arrives in Havana Bay on Dec. 19, 2008. Russia is talking of setting up military bases across Latin America. -- AP

Russian warship Admiral Chabanenko arrives in Havana Bay on Dec. 19, 2008. Russia is talking of setting up military bases across Latin America. -- AP

Geopolitics: President Obama dismisses Russia as a "regional power" while Secretary of State Kerry pronounces the Monroe Doctrine dead. Meanwhile, the world watches, stupefied, as Russian ships move to our doorstep.

Trash-talking a nation that just swallowed up a chunk of its neighbor and upended the global order doesn't seem like a very thoughtful strategy, given the weakness of U.S. sanctions following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

But that was what President Obama seemed to be doing Tuesday in claiming Russia was nothing but small fry in world affairs.

"Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness," Obama sniffed. By invading Ukraine, "the fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more."

A regional power? According to Obama's own Department of Defense, the Russian empire — which now encompasses nine time zones — has never been more expansive. And now it's getting involved in our hemisphere.

Russia once tried to set up military bases in Cuba (in 1959), Chile (1970) and Nicaragua (1980) — and now it's talking about doing the same in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. It's also getting more venturesome in its submarine excursions around U.S. Gulf ports, laying groundwork for something, but what?

Regional powers don't act this way. But nuclear powers with revanchist aims do — and it doesn't pay to dismiss them.

These moves didn't happen yesterday or in any tit-for-tat response to the sanctions the West hastily cobbled together against Russia for its takeover of Crimea. They are the result of methodical planning that Russia's leaders have been doing for years in projecting power.

Apparently lost on the Obama administration is the fact that Russia is now Latin America's top arms supplier, a role with which it is not unfamiliar. Nearly 100 years ago, Russia began its ascent to global influence by selling arms to Spain's leftist Republicans to fuel the Spanish Civil War of 1936. They fomented hellish violence and won a propaganda war even without winning the territory.

That was the beginning of Soviet power projection in the 20th century. In the post-Soviet era, Russia seems to be using that roadmap to influence Spain's old colonies in the New World.

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