WASHINGTON -- The current Secretary of Defense declined on Sunday to label Russia an enemy, saying such characterizations were overly simplistic and didn't do justice to the current crisis in Eastern Ukraine.
In an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Chuck Hagel didn't hazard a guess as to why Russian forces remained on the Ukraine border. But he did make the case that over the long run, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a bad hand and would damage his country's position on the world stage.
"Russia continues to isolate itself for a short-term gain. They, the Russians, may feel that somehow they're winning," he said, "but the world is not about just short-term."
While Hagel was mustering a bit of tough talk on Russia, one of his predecessors was offering a bleaker assessment of the situation. Appearing on CBS' "Face The Nation," Bob Gates warned that America's understanding of Russia's geopolitical interests has been woefully off-base.
"I think we have underestimated for a long time the magnitude of the humiliation that Russians felt with the collapse of the Soviet Union," he declared.
Gates also warned that with "very few tactical options" -- none of which involve military intervention -- there was little likelihood of defusing Russian policy toward Ukraine any time soon.
"[Putin] moved into the Crimea after his pro-Russian president of Ukraine was overthrown," said Gates. "He did not want to risk losing that naval base or Russia's only warm water port in Crimea. So he was going to take it over, and frankly, as far as I'm concerned, that's a done deal. There is nothing we can do to change that situation. What he wants to accomplish in eastern Ukraine, I'm not sure even he knows at this point, other than the long-term objective of protecting the Russians and making sure the Ukraine ultimately leans back towards Russia. I don't think he will rest until there is a pro-Russian government in Kiev, or a federated Ukraine where the eastern part of the country, for all practical purposes, looks back to Russia."