CHESS PRO PUTIN PUTS THE WEST IN CHECK
Chess is a game of strategy and tactic. A good player knows winning requires a long-term goal of noticing opponent’s weakness, watching for opportunity, lulling them into a false sense of security, then cutting them off from all means of escape.
If this stratagem sounds reminiscent of the cold war era, it should. In fact, it is this very mind set, in addition to longing for his KGB glory days, that drives Vladimir Putin’s incredibly optimistic view that he can surreptitiously recreate Russia as a global super-power under the auspices of a ‘trade union’ known as the Eurasian Union.
Unfortunately for the EU and U.S., Mr. Putin has a number of factors in his favor including Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Kerry and the media.
The entirety of what is happening in the Ukraine is an exquisite example of the delicate interplay between politics, economics and foreign relations. These three elements are always at odds and a good politician can effectively harness the cohesive synergy they create. Russia’s president has become deft at systematically manipulating through brute force this constellation of resource to his benefit and the West has done very little to discourage him.
First, Mrs. Merkel. Germany’s Chancellor has been on the phone so much Edward Snowden hardly has time to tell the world her phones are still tapped. She has taken a placating lead in diplomacy toward Moscow, something quite contrary to her demeanor toward Germany’s friendly neighbors in the south. Why? Because Germany is one of the world’s most efficient exporters and Russia ranks 11th in total consumption for German factories. The Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations estimates sanctions against Russia would cost Germany over 300,000 jobs. Finally, and most significantly, Mrs. Merkel loathes trade deficits but has no choice but to import from Russia one third of Germany’s oil and gas.
Second, Mr. Kerry. The analogy of a game of chess is a good one save for one difference. In chess, there are rules. In the histrionic fantasy land of Mr. Putin’s mind, where he is an intimidating factor to evils of the capitalist West, rules are for fools. The reason Mr. Putin takes this disposition is rooted in painful reality. Our missteps in Syria are much greater than what the media have lead the American public to believe and it began with one gaffe. President Obama said to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons was a ‘red line,’ the crossing of which, would unleash American military force. That is a very strong statement for any president to make, let alone one so cautious with every word. It would have worked out fine but for his overly presidential Secretary of State, who moments before a U.S. airstrike on Syria, accidentally answered ‘yes’ when a reporter asked if Assad handed over his chemical weapons would a U.S. strike be prevented. Literally seconds after this admission, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov issued a statement saying Moscow would broker a deal between the Assad government and the U.S. to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal giving Mr. Putin an unusually statesmanlike countenance. In failing to act in Syria, the U.S. essentially told Russia and the world, they are so disinclined to engage in another foreign conflict that egregious and preventable crimes against humanity (such as gassing to a painful death innocent children) can go unpunished. This inaction correctly lead Russia’s president to believe that America will be even less likely to use military intervention in the Ukraine.
Third, the media. What is actually happening in Crimea is the result of not having freedom of press, something Americans often take for granted. Russia’s president created a propaganda campaign and aired it on Russian TV watched by the large Russian speaking population of Crimea. State media reported numerous counts of neo-Nazi violence against Russians by Western Ukraine. Mr. Putin, accordingly, responded by saying he must ‘protect the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers’ and annex Crimea into the Russian Federation. Ironically, the footage used in this subterfuge was so poorly done that it wouldn’t pass muster even by Hollywood’s low standard. As Russian state TV reported thousands cheer the raising of a Russian flag on the capital building in Crimea, what had actually been orchestrated was bus loads of Russian tourists were brought to the capital and filmed naively clapping as they watched their country’s flag being hoisted. Next, state TV reported thousands of panicked Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia to escape the new government in Kiev. But there are no lines at the Russian border so to support their claim, the Russian media instead filmed lines of people at the border of Poland to pass off as exodus to Russia. However, they overlooked a small sign in the corner of the video naming the Polish city at the checkpoint. Then, appalling footage was released of ‘Ukraine’ snipers shooting over 100 journalists and aid workers. However, the Russian cameraman that recorded this massacre seems to have had an arrangement with the snipers because he was left unscathed as he filmed without a scintilla of disruption carnage taking place around him. Finally, Russian media reported that Ukrainians in black paramilitary uniforms armed with AK-47’s and grenade launchers were killing peaceful Russian citizens in Crimea. Upon closer examination of these photos, the guns were identified as Russian issued assault rifles and the grenade launchers were from the Russian military.
Thursday, the Crimean parliament voted to secede from the Ukraine and told Ukraine soldiers to lay down their weapons and accept Russian citizenship. They did so because their voters, the Russian speaking population of Crimea, don’t know that their country is not under attack. They don’t know that there is no persecution of Russians by Western Ukraine. They don’t know the snipers in the video were Russian and they don’t know the AK-47’s were actually Russian issued military rifles. This is why a free press is essential to a fair democracy. Crimea unwittingly throws to the lions their future because without objective media, they are left with nothing but the excogitative artifice of Mr. Putin’s ambitious plans.
Endgame for Mr. Putin is in bringing back to life mother Russia and while Mrs. Merkel worries about selling Mercedes and Mr. Obama laments over Syria, Russian speaking Ukrainians believe neo-Nazi fascists are eradicating their race despite empty streets throughout Crimea, and this is enabling the Russian president to move ever closer to realizing his fantasy.