Their real complaint is that Putin thinks and views the world differently from the Western political elite. The DiploMad notes:
... None of Obama's supposed "talents" works when dealing with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the Shining Shooting Tsar of Eurasia--arguably the smartest national leader in the world. Let me back up. "Smartest" might be the wrong word. Yes, it definitely is the wrong one. That word is too loosely defined and too easily pinned on too many. What makes Putin successful and such a formidable geopolitical foe (thank you, Mitt Romney) is not that he is just "smart," but that he is a throw-back to a different era. He hunts and fishes, and doesn't care about the political fashion and sensitivities of the day; pajama boy has no place in Putin's cage fighter universe. Despite his upbringing as a Communist, he is now devoutly religious and wants to see religion restored to Russian life. As the jihadis have discovered, they have in Putin a rival as ruthless and religiously committed as they, and not bound by the conventions of political correctness.
Putin is a man of hard-work, careful preparation, an avid student of potential opponents, willing to exploit opportunities, and, above all, driven by a vision on his mission: restoring Russia to the top ranks of the world hierarchy. He is determined to end what he sees as the world's mistreatment of and disregard for Russia. He saw the condescending manner in which Clinton and other world leaders treated the amiable sclerotic alcoholic Boris Yeltsin, who named Putin Prime Minister in 1999. Putin will not allow that again. He wants his legacy to be the man who restored Russia's greatness and made the world recognize it.
Let's sum up this part of the post:
Putin is a patriot; Obama is not.
Putin has a deep understanding of his country's history and people; Obama does not.
Putin wants his country to be number one; Obama could not care less.
Putin knows that words have meaning; Barack "Red Line" Obama hasn't a clue.
Putin has Lavrov; Obama has Kerry.
Advantage Putin.Victor Davis Hanson similarly writes:
... Let's just say that we have on our hands a New Old Russia. Blah, blah, wishes, and pink unicorns will not cut it. On paper, Russia is not strong compared to the West. The West should be able to handle Russia relatively easily. Russia, however, has one big advantage. Russia has leadership, a determined leadership not afraid to make decisions and act. That compensates for several orders of economic and technological inferiority. The West has, well, you know what the West has, and it ain't good.
The problem with all this condescending advice about and to Putin is not just the conceit that he obviously must see the world — not to mention traditional Russian interests — as we quite understandably do, but that he must also see the U.S. and Europe as we see ourselves. I wish that he would, but I know of no evidence that he does or ever will.
... We think Putin is stupid for annexing the Crimea. He thinks we — with the most vast military power in history and the world’s largest economy — are stupid to issue meaningless red lines to Syria, serial empty deadlines to Iran, and step-over lines to himself. We think he is ridiculous with his bare-chested photo-ops; he thinks Obama’s biking pictures and golf get-up are as effeminate as he is macho.What is stupid--and what Obama and his sycophants are unable to do--is to recognize that others may view the world, its problems and its solutions, differently. To Obama, everything is Chicago politics, and he can't understand why Putin would want to rock the boat.
The fact is that Putin is acting perfectly reasonable from the perspective of Russia's long term interests. David P. Goldman explains:
Just how does one define rationality in global politics? Here is a question that helps: What is the rational self-interest of a nation that will cease to exist within the horizon of present-day expectations? We look uncomprehendingly on the petty wars of perished peoples and marvel at the sheer vanity of their forgotten battles. How do we know that someone in the future won’t look back at us the same way? There have been Great Extinctions of the Peoples before in world history, but never with the breadth and speed of the demographic declines in our own era. That should give us something of an objective gauge with which to judge the rationality of actors.
... A specter is haunting Russia: the specter of depopulation. The cohort of Russian women of child-bearing age is so depleted that even a recovery of Russia’s birth rate will not forestall severe problems. Nonetheless I thought Berman’s thesis one-sided and overstated. Russia’s total fertility rate has recovered from around 1.2 a decade ago to 1.7 last year, and Russia’s population increased slightly in 2013 for the first time in almost two decades.
We do not know quite why this has occurred, but it seems that Putin’s aggressive efforts to promote fertility have had some effect ....
I suspect that Russia’s revived nationalism has a great deal to do with rising fertility. That includes the revival of the Orthodox Church, which is consubstantial with the Russian state. Countries that lose their faith and their identity also lose their motivation to bring new generations into the world; that is how civilizations die, the title of my 2011 book on demographics and geopolitics. Putin’s nationalism is also a rational response to an existential threat. The Germans might go gentle into that good night, but Russia will fight for its identity and its future existence.
... A core goal of Putin’s national revivalism is the reintegration of Russians left stranded in the “near abroad” by the collapse of the Soviet Union: Russia’s imperial policy of salting its border states with Russian settlers backfired when the evil Soviet empire collapsed. From the Russian vantage point this is not a matter of scoring points but an existential issue, a sine qua non of what it means to be Russian, and exemplary of the motivation for Russians to want their culture to continue.
Western pundits ridicule Putin’s claim that Russia is a bulwark against Western decadence. ... The problem is that Western Europe is decadent. Most European countries are headed for demographic extinction. Russia, which seemed passed the point of no return, is struggling to retrace its steps.
That leaves the West with a conundrum concerning the Russian intervention in Crimea and possibly elsewhere in Russian-majority areas in Ukraine. Russia does not want to be like other European countries. ... As Col. Peters said in the cited interview, “Putin believes in Russia’s destiny.”
The re-assertion of Russian identity, meanwhile, is as brutal a business as Russian self-assertion has been since the time of Peter the Great. Putin’s patriotism is not my patriotism. I don’t particularly like what Putin did in Crimea, but it was delusional to expect any other course of action. Russia is short of Russians, and it cannot ignore the 22 million Russians left stranded in newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union.
The Obama administration is staffed by the sort of utopian liberal internationalists who attended conflict-resolution seminars at Ivy League colleges. Putin seems a throwback, and that is just what he is: he is trying to revert to Russian identity prior to the 1917 October Revolution, not without some success. To compare him to Hitler is Billingsgate. The hawks seem upset that Russia has not chosen to accept its decline with Stoic resignation. It is easier to condemn Russian brutality than to suggest an alternative path by which Russia would remain viable a century from now.
It was inevitable that Russia would intervene if Ukraine became unstable. It is tragic in the full sense of the world, namely an outcome to which the participants are driven by circumstances they cannot control. Russia’s interest in Ukraine, particularly in the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country, is existential not opportunistic.
As in Georgia, there was nothing the United States (let alone the Europeans) could have done to hinder it, and nothing they can do to reverse it. The tragedy will play itself out, and at the end of it – the very end – there will be no Ukraine, because there will be no Ukrainians.