Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I know a decent amount about Latin America, and a small amount about Sub-Saharan Africa, and almost nothing about Eastern Europe, so take this with an appropriate amount of salt,  but....

I really don't understand or accept the Putin >> Obama narrative on Ukraine.

As I see it, Putin used to, de facto, have the whole Ukraine. But he and his stooge pushed things too far. Amazing and brave Ukrainians rose up, stood up, and got out from under Putin's thumb. Now as a blustery, face-saving measure, he's got "secret" troops in the Crimean Peninsula and there may be a referendum there about joining Russia.

People, the loser here is..... PUTIN!

Putin, people, not Obama. Obama and the US are fairly close to irrelevant.

Putin is going from de facto control of the whole country with little external costs to him of exercising such control, to perhaps de jure control of the Crimea with significant external costs to him of exercising such control.

That is not how geniuses do things my friends.


August said...

You've been watching too much American news coverage. What was happening was the 'March of the Color Coded Revolutions' i.e. U.S. State Department meddling in all sorts of countries. They've got a snazzy new way to do things, mostly based on pretending to be lovers of freedom while handing out slavery in the form of massive loans, so the new client nation can't legislate for their own people, but mostly do what the U.S. wants them to. The Russians are behind on their innovations in propaganda, but they can see the bulk of their gas goes through Ukraine, and Crimea has traditionally been one of their ports. Now, if the U.S. was a bit more politically aware, they should have known how touchy the Russians are about ports.
So the U.S. program of interfering with the world is either coming to and end, or it is going to get a lot more violent. Russia stopped this one, and China is likely to start asserting itself in its sphere of influence too. We will probably see more of this situation where there is a hard military defensive response to 'Western' desires. And we will probably see American foreign policy collapse.

Anonymous said...

You misunderstand this situation a bit as do nearly all our foreign policy experts. They believe Russia is the USSR and empire is the goal. That is no longer exactly true.

Putin rules a demographically dying country. What he wants, primarily, is:

1. to protect Russia's economic interests in Ukraine like oil and gas pipelines;

2. stable access to Russia's warm water navel port and military bases in the Crimea;

3. ethnic Russians.

Putin does not want ethnic Ukrainians, Georgian or others. The USSR proved this aggregation of people was unstable and the last think Putin wants or needs is a new islamist/ethnic like instability.

In demographically declining Russia more ethnic Russians are necessary to stave off the impending total collapse while Putin try's to find a way to get the Russians to make more babies.

This is due to Putin's understanding that Russia's traditional strength has been its huge land mass, its abundant resources and it large population. Russians are not western and do not act so. In WWII the US lost 500,000 men at arms, Russia lost 20-30 million men at arms and civilians. The Russian people are a true not metaphorical resource.

Thus, in Georgia in 2008 Putin only took the few provinces which were majority ethnic Russian. In Ukraine he only has control over Crimea which is ethnically Russian, and has Russia's warm water port and military bases.

The US, Great Britain, Russia and Ukraine (maybe the unctuous EU) need to sit down and discuss a land sale of Crimea and potentially the ethnic Russian majority areas of eastern Ukraine to Russia in exchange for Ukrainian debt relief. This should have been done long ago when it became apparent that the West was making some economic inroads with Ukraine. Additional discussion points should be a free trade zones between the West and Ukraine and Russia and the Ukraine. As well as, oil and gas pipeline agreements and assurances.

The incompetence of the current foreign policy team (The Kerry Keystone Kops, formerly the Klinton Keystone Kops) will keep any such good ideas from happening. Instead we will jump from Failure in Georgia to failure in Iraq, to failure in Afghanistan, to failure in Libya, to failure in Syria, to myriad unaccomplished failures throughout the world.

Putin won. He got what he wanted, lost what he did not want and in fact needed to lose, and is positioned to act unilaterally through out Eastern Europe. Obama's feckless flopping about is like watching an undisciplined freshman bull secession. Putin is a serious foreign policy chess master. This is incredibly painful to watch.

Focus on Russia's real interests and forget what Obama thinks his views are off point and irrelevant. Remember Putin wants and needs people more than land most of the time. He view the world differently than we do and act in his perceived best interest. He is a policy master and only acts when it suits him. He is ruthless.

Mark Sherman

Angus said...

Mark Sherman: thanks for a very thought provoking comment!

jorod said...

Well, you subscribe to the Steve Forbes view of the world. It remains to be seen if this draws Eastern Europe closer together or it scares them into submission. Eastern Europe needs a Treaty Organization like NATO. But we also need to get Russians to understand capitalism and use it instead of Realpolitik bullying. But they only understand force and having their young men sent home in body bags. The Russians are still bribing people with natural resources instead of practicing free trade. Putin is puzzled why Ukraine rejected his "friendly" deal.

Dr. Tufte said...

Angus, I would add to Mark Sherman that this is not a finite move game.

On move n Putin "had" Ukraine.

On move n+1 Ukraine tried to ditch Putin.

On move n+2, Putin clawed back part of that in the form of Crimea.

I would modify Mark's point to say that Putin took back what had the most net marginal benefit to his position

Like any infinite extensive game, the key is the outcomes at nodes further down the tree, not the moves in the middle. If we don't like Putin's behavior now, it's because we're not thinking enough about the net payoffs later on. This is why the Obama/Kerry/Merkel dithering is so harmful.

You're mostly right: of course, Putin has lost ... provided that those nodes in front of him are consistent with a loss. I'm not sure they are.

Angus said...

well he just took face-saving scraps in Georgia, and it looks like he's just taking face-saving scraps in Ukraine as well. That's what losers do. I do however take the point that his domestic popularity is rising over these moves.