Vladimir Putin's flip-flop decision to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came when the Russian president got spooked about his country's weakness on the world stage, a former U.S. defense official told Newsmax TV.
"He must've reflected on the fact that his position relative to the U.S. position is very weak," Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, told host Bill Tucker on Wednesday's "America Talks Live."
"The appearance that Vladimir Putin is strong is largely the result of weakness displayed by the United States in the [Barack] Obama years. Russia is not a very strong country.
"Its military is relatively weak and ineffective, even though they spend a lot of money. It's true they have nuclear weapons, but no one can quite imagine those being brought to play."
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In addition, Russia's economy is "not functioning well" and depends "most entirely on the price of oil," said Perle, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
"You have a weak Russia confronting what now appears to be a very much stronger America after the action that the president has taken," Perle told Tucker.
The Kremlin had announced Monday that Putin would not be meeting with Tillerson, when President Donald Trump's cabinet member visited Russia this week.
The declaration came amid the friction between the two countries after the U.S. launched a missile attack on a Syrian air base last week in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of its civilians. But Putin then changed his mind, and he and Tillerson broke bread Wednesday.
Perle said he believed the meeting will make it easier for both nations to move forward.
"Remember we have the president who's a negotiator, who's a bargainer, who likes to strike a deal, and I have no doubt that if there's a deal available that meets our interests, he would be ready to enter into some kind of agreement," Perle said.
"The problem, of course, with agreements with Vladimir Putin is you can't really trust that they will be implemented. The Russians were party to an agreement to remove chemical weapons [from Syria], and they clearly didn't do it.
"They were aware of the fact that chemical weapons remained. How complicit they were, I think, remains to be seen. But they were certainly not taken by surprise when Sarin was used on civilians."
Still, Perle is confident there is a chance the U.S. can forge some kind of alliance with Russia.
"I certainly think that is a possibility," he said. "It's a possibility in part because [Syrian President] Assad now to the first time in seven years is confronted by an angry America and an America that is no longer weak and passive.
"He must be calculating now how he survives this. We've had a lot of people just like him who have left at the last minute concerned about their survival, about where they would live in exile, about how much of their stolen money they can take with them.
"And I would not be surprised if Assad made the calculations and decided to save his own skin."
Perle is the author of "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror," written with David Frum and published by Ballantine Books.
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