Obama Says ‘Cold War Lens’ Is Putin’s Error in BuzzFeed Chat

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers of the Russian government on Jan. 21, 2015 at Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence outside of Moscow.

Photographer: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to diversify his nation’s economy due to a “Cold War” mentality that’s isolated Russia from Ukraine and other neighbors, President Barack Obama said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

“I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens,” Obama said in the interview Tuesday. The consequence is missed opportunities “to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression.”

Obama’s interview with the website came on the same day that he spoke with Putin by phone to discuss escalating violence in Eastern Ukraine. The White House is considering sending lethal military aid to Ukraine, where government forces are locked in an intensifying battle with pro-Russian separatists, although Obama said he continues to hold out hopes for a diplomatic resolution.

Obama said Russia’s economy, which has suffered amid a drop in oil prices and sanctions enacted last year by the U.S. and other countries, is “not an economy that’s built for the 21st century.”

“That’s bad for Russia and, over time, it’s bad for the United States, because if Russia is doing badly, the concern is that they revert to old expansionist ideas that really shouldn’t have any application in the 21st century,” he said.

Putin was an officer in the KGB, the Russian spy agency, for 16 years before entering politics. He became acting president in 1999 and was elected in 2000, serving until 2008 and being elected again in 2012.

‘Soviet Past’

“I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past,” Obama said of Putin’s background. “That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences.”

During the 22-minute interview, Obama also reiterated his belief that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states, and he criticized companies that haven’t supported his signature health-care law.

BuzzFeed News reported this week that employees of office-supply company Staples Inc. were being forced to limit their hours so that the company wouldn’t have to provide health care under the Affordable Care Act.

“I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages,” he said.

Obama “appears not to have all the facts,” Staples spokesman Kirk Saville, said in an e-mail. The company’s policy regulating hours for part-time workers is more than 10 years old and “predates the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major taxpayer,” Saville said.

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