Robert Gates: Vladimir Putin "playing a very poor hand with great skills"

Robert Gates on Russia's Putin

Donald Trump said this week that he would create a coalition with Russia to defeat ISIS. He’s also said he wants to shift NATO’s focus away from countering Russia. 

Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a strong leader,” while rival Hillary Clinton has called Putin a bully. She vows to stop Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine and Syria by punishing Russia with more financial sanctions.

In an interview with CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed what the next president of the United States faces from the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think Putin is one of these leaders who will push forward as long as there’s no significant resistance. But he’s not suicidal, he’s not delusional, he’s not crazy,” Gates said. “He’s a very calculating person who is playing a very poor hand with great skills.”

“Is Putin gaining influence?” Brennan asked.

“I think that Putin certainly has reasserted Russia’s role. It’s pretty clear that any negotiation on Syria if there ever is one, Russia will be at the table. And based on the way things are right now probably in the chair.”

Gates also said the next president must begin by asking the question, “What is Putin trying to do?”

“Putin is trying to reassert Russia as a great power player in the world. … If he can do it politically, he will. If he needs to do it militarily, he will. … But I think first the president is going to have to make clear that the United States won’t be pushed around by this guy.”

“You see the risk of military confrontation?” Brennan asked.

“The risk is the same as it was during the Cold War in this specific respect -- of a miscalculation or an accident or a mistake that somebody makes that escalates the situation,” Gates said.

Best-case scenario, Gates said, is a new president with a lot of credibility, who lays out clear guidelines for what the U.S. will and will not tolerate from Russia.