In 2014, relations between Russia and the United States went into a tailspin following the coup d'état in Ukraine and the events that followed.
Since then, Russian and US officials have engaged in diplomatic fisticuffs, using speeches, international forums, and other venues to criticize one another. But one thing Russian observers have found peculiar is the gradual change in President Obama's tone in rhetoric toward Russia, which started out by belittling Russia as a "regional power," but eventually acknowledged the country's international importance, and its status a military superpower.
Less than three years ago, in March 2014, when the dispute over Ukraine began, Obama dismissed Russia as a "regional power," and claimed that the country had "threaten[ed] some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness."
A year and a half later, something changed. In remarks at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in November 2016, Obama admitted that "Russia is an important country," that "it is a military superpower," and that "it has influence in the region and it has influence around the world."
The president even acknowledged that "in order to solve many big problems around the world, it is in our interest to work with Russia and obtain their cooperation," a far cry from earlier schoolmaster-like comments about the need to address Russian "behavior", or the US's role as the world's "one indispensable nation."
The odd change in tone was a continuation of a theme that appeared during the 2016 State of the Union address last January, where Obama admitted that the US could no longer "try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions."
Last month, something seems to have clicked again (perhaps the neo-cons got to him) and Obama decided to go out on a strong note on Russia. At his year-end press conference, clearly irritated with Moscow, Obama stressed that Russia "can't change us or significantly weaken us."
"They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don't innovate," he added. Nevertheless, during press event, Obama and the journalists who questioned him ended up mentioning Russia 38 times, and Russian President Vladimir Putin personally 15 times.
As far as his latest comments about Russia are concerned, most Russians are likely to stick to playground rules: No take backs.