Response to Norman A. Bailey: Putin is rational, and rational players are a manageable risk

Response to Norman A. Bailey: Putin is rational, and rational players are a manageable risk

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Dr. Bailey was my mentor in geopolitics, and I disagree with him with trepidation. Nonetheless, I read Putin’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine as a rational move on the chess board rather than an emotional response driven my memories of past invasions. Putin, to be sure, is doing his best to turn Ukraine into a failed state, as Jakub Grygiel wrote March 3 in American Interest. But the fact and form of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was predictable; in fact, I predicted it a year ago in Asia Times. By withdrawing its economic support (which amounted to over $200 billion between 1991 and 2013), and destabilizing an already wretched wreck of an economy, Putin dumped a failed state on Europe’s doorstep. A few tag lines from my February 24, 2014 essay:

Western governments are jubilant over the fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally. They may be underestimating Vladimir Putin: Russia has the option to hasten Ukraine’s slide into chaos and wait until the hapless European Union acquiesces to – if not begs for – Russian intervention….

The fall of Yanukovich is an embarrassment to Russia, and a well-deserved one, but that does not leave Russia entirely without options. Russia most likely will adopt the same stance towards pro-European Union politicians that the Egyptian military and its Saudi backers took toward Egypt’s the Muslim Brotherhood: let the opposition take the blame for economic and social chaos, and then move in when the country is on its knees…

Russia will not abandon Russian-speakers cut off from the Motherland by the collapse of the Soviet Union. One may assume that when local officials in Eastern Ukraine urge the local population to form militias, they may count on some professional assistance. [4] Time is on the side of whomever has the highest pain tolerance, and that is Russia, not the West.

I was convinced Putin would so this, because it is exactly what I would have done if I were playing Putin’s side of the chess board, and if I were playing chess in the first place. The other move, of course, was to ally with China against the West. That was equally predictable. Chess is the ultimate paranoid’s game: every square on the board is equally significant, and no move occurs without malicious intent. Putin is paranoid, but paranoids are rational, within their own distorted framework. Putin’s scacchic view of the world makes him predictable, and predictable opponents are dangers that can be defused. In this case defusing the risk requires clear delineation of spheres of influence; Putin is Lucky Luciano in this respect, not Hitler or Tamerlane. The West will have to allow Putin to “win” on certain issues, e.g. Crimea and Ukraine’s neutrality, in order to contain him.

 

David P. Goldman
David Paul Goldman (born September 27, 1951) is an American economist, music critic, and author, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym Spengler. Goldman sits on the board of Asia Times Holdings.
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