Obama: Putin ‘scares heck out of neighbors’ with ‘nationalist, backward-looking’ policy

The US president has lashed out at his Russian counterpart for pursuing what he called a “nationalist, backward-looking” policy. Obama has vowed to maintain sanctions against Russia, but added he doubts they could actually change Putin’s “mindset.”

Direct, blunt and business-like” is how Obama defined his relations with Vladimir Putin, when talking leading American CEOs on Wednesday. He admitted that working with Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s head of state was easier for him.

Obama said that Putin’s reaction to the crisis in Ukraine was aggressive and outdated.

"In part because I think the situation in Ukraine caught him by surprise, he has been improvising himself into a nationalist, backward-looking approach to Russian policy that is scaring the heck out of his neighbors and is badly damaging his economy," Obama said.

The US president praised the EU for having joined the sanctions against Russia, “despite the fact that it’s tough on the European economy.

Russia could at any time escape economic hardships if it only accepted “a pathway to a diplomatic resolution” in Ukraine offered by the US, Obama said.

READ MORE: Italian ex-FM: Sanctions affecting EU much more than expected, not impacting US at all

But if you ask me if I’m optimistic that Putin suddenly changes his mindset, I don’t think that will happen until the politics inside Russian catch up with what’s happening in the economy, which is why we are going to continue to maintain that pressure.

The US president acknowledged that Putin’s popularity at home has so far remained strong.

"The challenge is [that] this is working for him politically inside of Russia, even though it is isolating Russia completely internationally."

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti/Michael Klimentyev)

US rhetoric toward Russia has recently been getting more and more hostile.

Criticism of Putin and his policies comes less than three months after he included Russia with Ebola and the Islamic State extremist group in his ranking of international threats.

READ MORE: Russia tops ISIS threat, Ebola worst of all? Lavrov puzzled by Obama’s UN speech

The US president also included "aggressive Russia" in his list of top global dangers at the recent G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

The US House of Representatives has joined in, currently discussing a resolution “strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation, under President Vladimir Putin, which has carried out a policy of aggression against neighboring countries aimed at political and economic domination.”

The resolution describes Russia as an authoritarian regime, calls for the reinforcement of NATO, and for the sale of US gas to European countries so they don’t have to buy it from Russia. It also calls for an increase in broadcasting in the Russian and Ukrainian languages to counter “Russian propaganda.”

Moscow has long been irritated by NATO’s eastward expansion, seeing it as a factor undermining Russia’s security.

READ MORE: NATO destabilizing Baltic by stationing nuke-capable aircraft – Moscow

The recent NATO military buildup in the bloc’s member states bordering Russia has brought repeated and strident objections from Moscow, as well as promises of “an adequate and well-measured response.”

Putin has repeatedly denied the West’s accusations that Russia is militarily involved in hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Putin has emphasized that Moscow is doing everything it can to resolve the crisis there.

As for the sanctions, Putin has interpreted them as an attempt to subdue Russia.

"Throughout history, no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia – and no one ever will," Putin said in November.