Mr Putin sees conflict as a way to command respect. To be at odds with the US, this rather paranoid logic says, is to be its equal.
But this isn’t paranoia; it’s the simple application of an old dictum:
You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.
Picking arguments with America is a pretty standard way of boosting one’s political status: Hugo Chávez loves doing it, as do Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama bin Laden, George Galloway and a host of others who fear that merely pushing their own agendas won’t be enough to win them kudos. Does Putin really want to be in the company of such a rabble, though?
(After that quote about enemies came to mind, I wondered where I’d heard it. I was delighted to discover who said it.)