Modeling Vladimir Putin

by on March 19, 2014 at 7:16 am in Current Affairs, Philosophy, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here are some options:

1. Putin is a crazy hothead who is not even procedurally rational.  Merkel received that impression from one of her phone calls with him.

2. Putin is rational, in the Mises-Robbins sense of instrumental means-ends rationality, namely that he has some reason for what he does.  He simply wills evil ends, namely the extension of Russian state power and his own power as well.

3. Putin is fully rational in the procedural sense, namely that he calculates very well and pursues his evil ends effectively.  In #2 he is Austrian but in #3 he is neoclassical and Lucasian too.  He knows the true structure of the underlying model of global geopolitics.


4. Putin lives in a world where power is so much the calculus — instrumentally, emotionally and otherwise — that traditional means-ends relationships are not easy to define.  Power very often is the exercise of means for their own sake and means and ends thus meld and merge.  Our rational choice constructs may mislead us and cause us to see pointless irrationality when in fact power is being consumed as both means and end.  It is hard for we peons to grasp the emotional resonance that power has for Putin and for some of his Russian cronies.  They grew up in the KGB, watched their world collapse, tyrannized to rise to top power, while we sit on pillows and watch ESPN.

Here is a former CIA chief arguing Putin has a zero-sum mentality, though I would not make that my primary framing.  Here is Alexander J. Motyl considering whether Putin is rational (Foreign Affairs, possibly gated for you).  Here is an interesting and useful discussion of differing White House views of PutinThis account of a several-hour dinner with Putin says he is prideful, resentful of domination, and hardly ever laughs.  Here is Eric Posner on Putin’s legal astuteness.

My views are a mix of #2 and #4.  He is rational, far from perfect in his decision-making, and has a calculus which we find hard to emotionally internalize.  His resentments make him powerful, and give him precommitment technologies, but also blind him to the true Lucasian model of global geopolitics, which suggests among other things that a Eurasian empire for Russia is still a pathetic idea.

Putin is also paranoid, and rationally so.  We have surrounded him with NATO.  China gets stronger every year.  Many other Russians seek to kill him, overthrow him, or put him in prison.

Assumptions about Putin’s rationality will shape prediction.  Under #1 you should worry about major wars.  With my mix of #2 and #4, I do not expect a massive conflagration, but neither do I think he will stop.  I expect he keep the West distracted and seek to turn resource-rich neighbors into vassal states, for the purpose of constructing a power-intensive, emotionally resonant new Russian/Soviet empire, to counter the growing weight of China and to (partially) reverse the fall of the Soviet Union.  Even if he does not grok the true model of the global world order, he does know that Europe is weak and the United States has few good cards it is willing to play.


Addendum: Whatever your theory of Russians in general may be, watch this one-minute video of a Russian baby conducting and give it a rethink.

1 david March 19, 2014 at 7:36 am

Kremlinology lives again!

2 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 7:59 am

One interesting point might be predicting what’s next after Crimea? Are the next targets of Putin’s territorial ambitions manifest?

3 Z March 19, 2014 at 8:16 am

It depends upon how much you know about Russian history and how much you you think history matters.

4 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 9:28 am

What’s your guess?

5 ElamBend March 19, 2014 at 9:45 am


6 Z March 19, 2014 at 10:03 am

My bet from the start is the Germans would sell Ukraine back to Russia for cheap gas. The West largely subscribes to the beliefs you see on this site. The Economist at Delphi will be consulted and s/he will tell them to cut the Ukrainians loose. Behind the scenes the French and Germans are already working on deals with Putin to defuse the situation. He gets to keep The Crimea, the Ukrainians get to be a basket-case buffer between West and East and the Europeans get cheap energy.

7 Joe Smith March 19, 2014 at 11:40 am


Something like that might actually be the best outcome but I would frame it in terms of Russia pays Ukraine a lot of money ($50 Billion??) for Crimea and promises Ukraine cheap gas, secure gas.

8 GC March 19, 2014 at 11:45 am

“Transnistria”…. unlikely, if nothing else because there is the whole of Ukraine between Russia and the region, making a land invasion at the moment difficult, and the Russian fleet, assuming adequate amphibious capability (which they don’t have) would have to pass the Dardanelli straits, which is a non starter.

9 Jan March 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm

I agree with GC. Plus, the place is a shithole, not that that kept them out of South Ossetia. Putin may only like shitholes on his border.

10 Alexei Sadeski March 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Everything is gas to you guys.

Germany imports a whopping total of $39 billion in natural gas per year. That’s 1% of their GDP.

It’s really not a big deal.

11 mishka March 19, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Alaska, of course. As well as parts of California.

12 mishka March 19, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Basically, the question is, “is he evil or evil”? That’s very deep.

13 DJ March 19, 2014 at 7:42 am

Suppose #2 is accurate. Would it be in his interest to make Merkel think #1?

14 dirk March 19, 2014 at 7:52 am

Very good point. He is a mix of #2 and #4 but would want the world to think he is either #1 or #3 (and to be uncertain which). He would want Russians to think he is #3, of course, but #1 might be his preferred image in Europe.

15 dirk March 19, 2014 at 7:55 am

Note that being #2 and #4 but wanting to be perceived as #1 or #3 has different implications for his likely behavior than merely being #2 and #4.

16 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 7:53 am

The guy has been running the show for 14 years and change. If he were a genuine loon, I think it would be manifest by now. Look at the course of events in Soviet Russia over the period running from 1927 to 1942, in Germany between 1933 and 1948, in China from 1949 to 1964, in Egypt between 1952 and 1967, in Iraq between 1968 and 1983, in Uganda between 1971 and 1986, and in Iran between 1979 and 1994 and then look at the course of events in Russia over the last 15 years. Not remotely similar.

17 GC March 19, 2014 at 11:50 am

Not to mention, he managed to engineer his staying in power while stepping down as president (with all the constitutional shenanigans, of course, but still), while keeping is minions mostly faithful for years and return to full power once again… which is unheard of in Russian history (where lose of power usually meant death by execution, pneumonia or other unfortunate incidents), and in most non democratic countries. If he’s a loon, it’s a damn good one at that.

18 Dog March 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I think you and Tyler are misinterpreting the Merkel quote. At least part of what she meant was that Putin wasn’t being fed ACCURATE INFORMATION by his inner circle about the situation on the ground in Ukraine, etc. Putin’s inner circle has changed since he reclaimed the presidency, many ideologues and Stalinists, more focus on propoganda, etc.

19 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 7:45 am

1. I bet Putin is rational enough not to pursue liquidation of the Russian nation-state through mass immigration of uncommitted foreigners.

2. He’s just arranged for the forced transfer from the Ukraine to Russia of a piece of territory populated by ethnic Russians. He did so with firing hardly a shot. He did so with the assent of the local population. On the list of evil ends, this one does not rate.

3. The cruelest act of the Russian government in the last twenty-two years was the subjugation of Chechenya. The worst of that was not executed by Putin’s minions, but by his predecessor’s.

4. He’s abusive to the opposition and has likely ordered hits. However, Russia is at this time more benignly governed than it has been at any time in the modern era bar the years running from 1905-17 and 1988-2004.

5. The assessments of Freedom House suggest that there has been over 10 years no deterioration in the quality of civic life in Russia. He runs an authoritarian regime of a circumscribed character, one given more to political pluralism than that of China, or most of the Turkic states, or of White Russia.

6. Russia suffered over 14 years a catastrophic political and economic implosion which cost it peripheral territories where resided about 40% of the population of the former Soviet Union. Russian expansionism to date has been to reacquire one territory populated by ethnic Russians (which was transferred to the Ukraine only in 1954) with a population similar to greater Pittsburgh and to acquire two restive fragments of the Caucasus with a total population similar to that of greater Cardiff. How anxiety provoking is that?

7. Much of the lament with regard to the current regime in Russia would be over opportunities lost. The question arises as to what other power center present in Russia in 1998 would have actually taken advantage of opportunities.

20 Putin March 19, 2014 at 9:22 am

I’m delighted that you approve.

21 AC March 19, 2014 at 9:55 am
22 ZvS March 19, 2014 at 9:55 am

“Without firing a shot” leaves a few bodies unaccounted for.

23 affenkopf March 19, 2014 at 10:56 am

And “populated by ethnic Russians” leaves the 40% of the population who’s not Russian unaccounted for.

24 mishka March 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Those 40% of non-Russians by passport (mostly) speak and think Russian and consider themselves Russians. Those percentage figures are meaningless in any ex-USSR country. They do not denote cultural (or any other kind) of heritage. The “nationality” was used very loosely, it was quite possible to have in the same family a “Russian” sister and a “Ukrainian” brother. “Russian” was a often used as a proxy of “I have no idea what my ethnicity is” (like “American”). And, yes, Crimea, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk, for all practical purposes, are well over 90% Russian (which now probably means “scared shitless of the Nazis in Kiev and willing to join Russia, or India, or Switzerland, just to put some barbed wire between here and there). Just come over there and talk to random people on the streets. Btw, my wife is from Donetsk. Her father is of Greek ancestry. Her mother is Ukrainian, She is Russian (and so am I).

25 affenkopf March 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

When in doubt call your opponents Nazis The fact is that Svoboda won’t get more than 5% in the election in May. Hardly a fascist takeover.

But hey, Bandera, who spent years in an concentration camp, is a Nazi according to Russian propaganda.

26 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 1:33 pm

But the 58% Russian figure is based on self-identification. It seems that is the best measure of what people consider themselves.

27 Jan March 19, 2014 at 2:15 pm

So… the cities of eastern Ukraine are majority Russian. Outside the big population centers, not so much.

28 mishka March 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm

To affenkopf :

The Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) was registered as a party on October 16, 1995; although the original movement was founded on October 13, 1991, in Lviv. Political experts claim that the name of the party was an intentional reference to the Nazi Party in Germany, while Social-nationalism is supposedly the same as Nazism.Membership was restricted to ethnic Ukrainians, and for a period the party did not accept atheists or former members of the Communist Party. The party also recruited skinheads and football hooligans.

List of Svoboda figures in the current government

Oleksandr Sych – Vice Prime Minister
Andriy Mokhnyk- Minister of Ecology
Ihor Shvayka – Minister of Agriculture
Ihor Tenyukh – Minister of Defence
Borys Tarasyuk – Minister of European Integration
Oleksandr Shlapak – Minister of Finance
Andriy Parubiy – National Council of security
Oleh Makhnitsky – General Prosecutor
Serhiy Kvit – Education minister
Dmytro Bulatov – Sports minister
Tetiana Tchornovol – Head of Anti-corruption bureau

And this is what their PMs do to the media they don’t like

To dan111: Assuming a valid “self-identification” is an answer to “in which language to you prefer to answer the survey”, Ukraine is north of 70% Russian.

to Jan: I am in no position to argue. I only spent 30 years of my life there, clearly, never leaving a big city.

29 Max March 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm

mishka, where did you get the idea that it’s appropriate to link to the video of the assault on Panteleymonov while staying silent about the outcry against Myroshnychenko and his goons that immediately followed (including the criminal case opened by the AG)? Crash-course for young Russian propagandists ran by Lifenews? Self-taught while watching Rossiya24?

30 mishka March 20, 2014 at 7:58 am

At least there is no argument that Social Nationalists are different from National Socialists 😉

How much there was outcry about this: (yet another PM beating up the guy in the regional administration)

or this (regional governor and peaceful protesters)

or this (how to talk to a regional AG)

or this (making sure the democratic vote goes the right way, the AK-74 way)

and soooooo on…

31 affenkopf March 19, 2014 at 10:55 am

1. I bet Putin is rational enough not to pursue liquidation of the Russian nation-state through mass immigration of uncommitted foreigners.

Actually Nationalists in Russia have criticized Putin for allowing unrestricted immigration of non-Russians from former Soviet Central Asia.

32 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

That may be, but the ethic Russian proportion has hardly changed since its latter-day peak in 1959. (It was a jab at the moderator).

33 Steve Sailer March 20, 2014 at 12:53 am

Russians loathe the Chechen goon squad that lives in the Interior Ministry hotel in Moscow. Their job is to protect Putin’s Chechen proxy Ramzan Kadyrov when he comes to see the boss, which gives them lots of free time to run amok in Moscow when Kadyrov is back in Grozny.

34 Doug March 19, 2014 at 11:10 am

“1. I bet Putin is rational enough not to pursue liquidation of the Russian nation-state through mass immigration of uncommitted foreigners.”

I’m no fan of unrestricted immigration, especially of the unskilled variety. But the Alt Right’s obsession with this topic is beyond lunacy. What’s next? Are we going to lionize Kim Jong Un for maintaining Korean “ethno-nationalist purity” because South Korea allows in too many immigrants?

Yes, current immigration levels will mean that on the margin more corrupt Chicago style Democrats will win by handing out more welfare. No, this won’t mean the end of Western civilization. We’re talking about very gradual demographic change that will take on the order of a century. There’s far more serious issues. At any rate you’d have to be blindingly obsessed to think that Russian kleptocracy and brutalism offer some sort of superior alternative to even the most leftist Western progressivism. I’d rather be ruled by Paul Krugman than Vladimir Putin any day of the week.

35 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 11:21 am

I am not sure why you fancy having a viewpoint is an ‘obsession’ or why you fancy I qualify as a member of the ‘alt-right’. Neither is true.

36 Doug March 19, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Well, I apologize if I unfairly projected onto you. But I was using your first point as a stepping point to address a common viewpoint I’ve seen around the comments of the Sailer-sphere. A lot seem to be of the opinion that Putin’s Russia is superior to the West. And furthermore that countries that seem to being pulled in both directions, namely the former Soviet states, would be better off in the long-term to move towards Russia rather than the Western Europe.

The primary reason they cite for this is the higher levels of immigration in the West. Yet Russia is terrible at basic components of a functional society like corruption, the rule of law, property rights and free markets. The only way one could think it superior is if immigration absolutely dwarfs in importance all these other factors. Which no reasonable person could.

Again apologies if the intention of your comment doesn’t fit into this description, but I hope you could understand how I could think it might.

37 jacob March 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

A lot of Alt Right folks are middle-skilled lowish status guys who have to directly compete with mediocre HB1s for jobs and dumb but charismatic Latins, Africans, and Middle Easterners for lays.

38 Cliff March 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Your evidence for that is?

39 msgkings March 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm

More obvious than the ‘evidence’ that non-whites = the end of civilization

40 Cliff March 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

There are more serious issues than the decline of Western civilization?

41 Doug March 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Maybe the way I worded my comment was unclear. But I don’t think at current levels immigration is a threat to Western civilization. At least not within this century. These are very gradual demographic shifts, and even after that it will still take a lot of time for demography to cascade to culture. The right’s concern about the present rate of immigration is analogous to the left’s concern about climate change. Is it something to be concerned about? Yes. But are these groups way over-biased about how big of a concern it should be? Absolutely, especially considering economic discount rates applied over a hundred years.

A much more immediate threat is the rising hostility to free market capitalism, which forms the very core of Western civilization. Ironically many of those on the Alt-Right who endlessly worry about immigration destroying Western nation openly support Occupy Wall Street populism. The West without capitalism will look much worse than the West without white people. I’d contend that you’d much rather live in modern-day South Africa than the GDR.

42 msgkings March 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Well said

43 libertarianinchina March 20, 2014 at 1:16 am

Exactly what Doug said. When people’s biggest concern is immigration, you have to wonder why they care so much, relative to other issues.

44 Marie March 20, 2014 at 8:10 am

“A much more immediate threat is the rising hostility to free market capitalism, which forms the very core of Western civilization.”

This sentence should be applied widely, it’s very good.

45 Art Deco March 20, 2014 at 12:59 pm

When people’s biggest concern is immigration, you have to wonder why they care so much, relative to other issues

I’m going to submit to you that the complaint you are all lodging is that it is a concern at all. Several problems:

1. Pace the humbugs in the HR department and on the dean of students’ staff and on the admissions staff, diversity is not strength. It is something which requires negotiation and adjustment. It is so all the more when institutional elites encourage the formation of ethnic lobbies and what not. (Also, the diversicrats have a decidedly truncated version of variety. It does not encompass either social segments they cannot treat as clientele or social segments which contend with what really matters to them).

2. The United States has for several decades now suffered immigration of such rapidity that nothing like it has been seen outside the period running from 1877 to 1924. The context differs, though. The population is four times what it was in 1900, industrial employment has been declining as a share of the whole, agriculture employs comparatively few people, and the decline in transportation costs has generated challenges to the maintenance of point-of-entry screens.

3. We had in 1900 an elite invested in the country’s past and its native aspirations (think Teddy Roosevelt). We do not anymore. We have an elite and a professional-managerial bourgeoisie who sees the domestic working class as pairs of hands (which is not new) and conceptualizes itself in opposition to and superior to the common-and-garden working class. This is particularly true in the legal profession, HR, and higher education. Immigration is a means to import exotics who dilute the influence of ordinary Americans that cling to their guns and religion.

4. This is done self-consciously by Democratic Party strategists, as one admitted to Michael Lind a dozen years ago. The man told Lind that the white working class was lost to the Democratic Party, so they would import a mess of hispanics and build a base among them.

5. For over 35 years, the political class has simply refused to enforce the immigration laws, manufactured a social myth that it’s impossible to do (and some open-borders enthusiasts get quite shirty when you quote figures to them about actual law enforcement and public infrastructure budgets). The current incumbent is egregious in this regard.

6. While we are at it, a huge share of the immigration is coming from a countries with fairly high levels of social pathology one of which has a fanciful irridentist claim to boot.

7. The supposed welfare gains from trade in labor as a factor of production are pretty minimal, skewed to the already affluent, and sensitive to the quantum of common provision distributed to immigrants.

So, the immigration issue is a canary in the coal mine. People who spout off about open borders fall into about two categories: people hostile to the interests of ordinary non-exotic Americans or libertarians who are one of G.K. Chesterton’s caricatures: the mad man who is not illogical, but only logical.

46 dirk March 19, 2014 at 7:46 am

A mix of #2 and #4 seems most likely.

47 Ryan March 19, 2014 at 7:53 am

Are his actions really all that puzzling? Ukraine (and indeed the other former USSR states in eastern Europe) form a buffer against NATO and the West. These states were brought into the Western sphere of influence when Russia was weak. Russia is no longer weak, and has a lot of (military and non-military) leverage over Europe. Russia needs it’s territory back, and moreover needs to send a signal. The benefits of Crimean annexation outweigh the costs.

Did the US do nothing when Cuba went Communist? What would we have done if Quebec joined the Warsaw Pact?

48 dirk March 19, 2014 at 7:59 am

Why does Russia need its territory back and why does it need to send a signal?

49 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:07 am


That’s Cold War reasoning. Russia wasn’t the enemy anymore. Well, now, it is again. We’ll see about the costs. They depend on European resolve and I am pretty sure Poland and the Baltic states are none too pleased about Putin trying to erase “Russia’s humiliations”…

50 Z March 19, 2014 at 8:17 am

For a land based tribe without natural barriers between them and the other, distance becomes the next best thing to an ocean.

51 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 8:40 am

It’s hard to see how a territorial barrier is relevant between nuclear powers.

Plus, it is circular logic. Russia acts as an aggressor in order to buffer itself against enemies. But it only has those enemies because it acted as an aggressor. Europe and America have no natural reason to oppose Russia. They have not even taken much interest in Putin’s strongman tactics, as long as they remained internal to Russia.

52 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

+1. Very well said.

53 Z March 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

For you it may be hard to see, but not for Russians. For as long as anyone knows, they have used distance as a defense against invasion. Distance stopped Napoleon. Distance stopped Hitler. Distance is not enough to stop foreign culture from invading your lands, but survival is a multi-dimensional war. That battle is waged with different tools.

Like everyone else in the West, you prefer to paint Putin as a cartoon villain. That’s just deliberate ignorance.

54 J March 19, 2014 at 9:24 am

You would think that nuclear weapons render this stuff a irrelevant, and yet, even among nuclear powers, conventional land power still seems to matter a heck of a lot.

Nobody ever really thinks of themselves as the aggressor. Even now you’re putting Russia as the aggressor, but if (as a commenter above said) Quebec wanted to break off of Canada and join the Warsaw Pact, you can bet the US would not allow that. You can call it aggression, but at the end of the day that would be a huge national security risk for the US. Similarly Russia views NATO’s expansion into its backyard as a security threat and when feasible takes steps to prevent it.

I work in an office with a lot of eastern European (or EE-descent) Jews, and needless to say there’s been a lot of heated argument of late about Ukraine, and of course I, the lone Irishman, try to avoid getting too involved lest I fan those flames. But what I grasp and nobody else seems to be able to grasp, is that this isn’t about who’s right, who’s wrong, what the Crimeans really want, etc. etc. This is ultimately about power. I’m American. I want America/NATO to be strong, and Russia to be weak, on the int’l scene. I want to bring Ukraine into the Western fold because it makes the West more powerful, not because of pro-Ukrainian sentiment on my part. Anyway I ramble, but I think I made my point.

55 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 9:47 am

@Z, of course, those are pre-nuclear examples. More relevant is the nearly 70 years of no wars between nuclear powers. Could it be that some of the Russian people still view it in those old terms? Maybe, but Putin is running this show and he’s a smart dude (in my model at least). I doubt he is really motivated by land to stave off potential invasions. I don’t think Putin is a cartoon villain, just a normal one. But my point wasn’t really about Putin being evil, just that seeing this as an act of self-defense is implausible.

@J, being the aggressor is a matter of perspective, but my point doesn’t rest on a particular moral interpretation of the situation. In purely realist terms, the West isn’t going to act against Russia unless Russia does something that is perceived by the West to be a major provocation. That seems obvious.

56 Z March 19, 2014 at 10:08 am

@dan: My model is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, except John Wayne has been dead for a generation and Jimmy Stewart thinks he already killed Lee Marvin. The only trouble is Lee Marvin is in the street calling out Jimmy Stewart.

57 J March 19, 2014 at 10:18 am


I hear you, but now your point is collapsing into the (in my opinion naive) Bryan Caplan view of “gee willickers wouldn’t it be great if everybody just surrendered and yielded to American hegemony?” which is true I guess, but not a very viable or realistic option for Russia and China, who themselves aspire to be powerful states.

I do agree that sometimes it seems like Russia is operating in an antiquated mindset. Nobody in Europe is even remotely interested in invading Russia. But then again a lot can change over the course of decades, so maybe their very long game is not so silly after all. You can bet that despite all the rhetoric, every single modern US president except Jimmy Carter was acutely aware of the national security implications of everything they did. Even Bush; he was just dumb about it.

58 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 10:46 am

@J, my point is that Russia is not defending against actual invasion of its territory. Russia can exercise plenty of power in opposition to the West, doing far more than annexing Crimea, without fear of a direct military response. Putin, a veteran of the Cold War, realizes this.

@Z, great movie.

59 J March 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm


True, but if you don’t do anything until an invasion is happening or about to happen, you’ve really mismanaged the situation up to that point. We embargoed Japan and sold war materiel to the British during WW2 because we could see the handwriting on the wall. We didn’t just wait for Japanese ships to invade California before getting involved. That whole chess game goes on and on and on.

60 Gene Callahan March 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm

“Russia acts as an aggressor in order to buffer itself against enemies. But it only has those enemies because it acted as an aggressor.”

Yes, they are so aggressive, they have placed their nation in the middle of a bunch of US military bases!

61 mishka March 19, 2014 at 10:00 pm


Lately, pretty much every step Russia has taken was seen by West as minor/major provocation or an evil deed. Regardless of how it impacts West. Including Olympics.

The ex-USSR republics that were drawn into Western sphere are as anti-Russia as they can be (including non-citizenship institute and waffen-ss celebrations). Russia clearly sees Ukraine being actively pulled in that direction.

62 dan1111 March 20, 2014 at 7:35 am

@mishka, lay off the Nazi references, and your opinions will be somewhat less laughable.

63 Putin March 19, 2014 at 9:28 am

One man’s buffer zone is another man’s sovereignty.

64 Sean March 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

It may have been Ukraine was fairly autonomous and had no real need or desire to align itself with the EU or Russia. This worked fine for Russia as it saw no threat to its very strategic military base. However, this balance changed when the EU or Ukraine (not sure which initiated) began discussions about joining the EU. This posed a threat to Russia and it’s base on the peninsula. So Russia acted in its self interest to buy Ukrainian loyalty and when this failed, chose a more direct approach. It seems logical and rational. Not sure if this is all that accurate but it is a plausible course of events.

65 Andao March 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

The EU never said “you can’t trade with Russia” as part the association agreement. Russia made it clear that it was either with us or against us.

66 Bob from Ohio March 19, 2014 at 10:33 am

“Russia is no longer weak”

It is still weak, just not as weak. It is a corrupt petro state with a declining population.

Russia is a Potemkin power. It has nukes and a veto at the UN but an economy totally dependent on oil and gas, a pitiful political structure and a second rate military. (The Ukraine and Georgia have fourth rate armies so they seem strong in comparison only.)

67 Ryan March 20, 2014 at 10:03 am

Glad to see my comment generated so much debate.

@dirk: Russia requires land as a buffer against invasion. See J’s comments for a good explanation. Russia needs to send a signal to the new Ukrainian leaders and to other buffer states that are leaning westward (Georgia).

@dan1111: Its only circular logic if you begin from the premise that the West and Russia were friends before Russia acted as the aggressor. They weren’t. As for nuclear deterrence: It is very clear that spheres of influence matter even in the age of nuclear deterrence. The closer those spheres of influence are to your own borders, the better. Do you really think the US would tolerate Quebec coming under the Russian or Chinese sphere of influence because it has a massive nuclear arsenal?

@Bob. Russia just annexed Crimea, and the West is not going to reverse that. It is a regional hegemon, and it has power (maybe not as much as the US, but that does not qualify it as weak).

Many may find the “us vs. them” an antiquated way of thinking about geopolitics. As a model of Putin’s behavior, it serves very well in fitting the data. After the independence of Kosovo – another blow to the Russian sphere of influence – Russia “retaliated” by invading South Ossetia… When viewed through this lens, there is nothing puzzling about Putin.

68 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 7:57 am

So what’s with the verdict of the recent referendum? Wikipedia says a 80%+ turnout & a clear mandate to join Russia.

What gives? Was poll counting doctored? Voting under duress? Even so, how much? Enough to affect results?

69 dirk March 19, 2014 at 8:08 am

The real vote was not likely 96% pro-Russia (or whatever 90+ number they claim.) It’s easy to imagine that the real vote was more like 55-60% pro-Russia (or would have been without duress), but Russia had good reason to claim it was 96% to make it sound like a clear mandate. But, then, if they were willing to say 55% was 96%, it seems equally likely they would say 45% was 96%. So the official result of 96% means we don’t have a clue what the real vote was.

70 mishka March 19, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Of course you know better. Care to cite major violation? Btw, there were international observers from major countries.

71 Rahul March 20, 2014 at 12:33 am

Interesting. Which nations had sent official observers? UN too? Are their comments available? Would love to read.

72 Ed March 19, 2014 at 8:08 am

Although I dislike Putin, I don’t think that it can be denied that the Crimea should have never been given to the Ukraine. It was done so in 1954 by Krushchev as a gesture of reconciliation with the Tartars and the Ukrainians who had suffered under the rule of Stalin. I think that there were more appropriate gestures than this.

Russia has a point when it asks why Kosovo or the other ex-Yugoslav countries are able to declare independence whereas South Ossetia and Crimea are not. However, Russia should also admit that Chechnya might want to break away. Ideally, I think that human rights should be respected everywhere so that it should not matter where the boundary is. However, the grim reality is that this does not happen in many Eastern European countries.

73 Locke March 19, 2014 at 9:57 am

These are valid points to be brought up in dialogue, which is difficult to impossible when you forcibly annex the region in question.

There is plenty of instances around the world (Scotland, Catalonia, Ossetia, etc etc) to warrant the international community to devise a formal mechanism for processing the peaceful division and recombination of territorial states. Military violence has been rejected as that mechanism long ago.

74 Mike March 19, 2014 at 10:10 am

Would this comment thread exist if military violence had really been rejected as that mechanism long ago?

75 Locke March 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

It exists as a common position of the international community. That’s not to say it’s always the reality on the ground. But case in point: Kuwait.

76 louis March 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm

The ballot also did not present a choice to keep the status quo. The only choices were unification with Russia or independence. Russian troops occupied the peninsula before the vote in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and effectively orchestrated the whole secession. The whole thing happened in a flash, with no consultation or negotiation with the Ukrainian parliament. In short, illegitimate in lots of ways.
In Kosovo, there was a looming threat of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs against the ethnic Albanians which the West saw as overriding or even nullifying Serbia’s sovereignity in the region. Of course Putin tries to use that justification by inventing threats to ethnic Russians.

77 Ed March 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

The Kosovo War was illegal under international war, although the UN commission called it “illegal but legitimate” because of the ethnic cleansing going on.

I think that Kosovo had to separate from Serbia, as it would have been impractical to put it back after what had happened. There might not be any genocide going on in Crimea at present, but there has been ethnic cleansing in the past and that still informs people’s feelings today. I think that it might become impractical to keep Crimea in the Ukraine. Even if it is not widely recognised, Crimea will probably be de facto part of Russia from now on.

78 Ed March 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Correction: “illegal under international LAW”

79 Mike March 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

But the ethnic cleansing was by the (Soviet) Russians against the Crimeans; Ukraine had nothing to do with it. The only reason that informs feelings today is that the ethnic cleansing mostly worked.

80 mishka March 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

louis: “The ballot also did not present a choice to keep the status quo. The only choices were unification with Russia or independence. ”

And this is an outright lie!
The two questions were

1. Ascent as a autonomy to Russia
2. Broad autonomy within Ukraine.

81 louis March 21, 2014 at 10:05 am

Mishka, you accuse me of an “outright lie” but I don’t see a choice 3, “status quo” within the choices you presented.
“Broad autonomy within Ukraine” seems kind of like Taiwan’s “one country two systems” fiction. Not that there was any chance the Russians and pro-Russian Crimeans would have let the vote go that way anyway.

82 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:12 am

Yes. Polls prior to Yanukovich fall put support for joining Russia at around 40%, give or take. With the recent events, a real referendum would have been ‘competitive’ for either sides. There are good arguments/tough questions to be answered for either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

This referendum was just a farce, for the Russia propaganda machine. By and large for internal consumption, though it always help to give something to the ‘adult’/’reasonable’ pundits and other geo-political experts who absolutely want this to be a deep, though-out, strategically smart, move and a confrontation between super-powers.

It’s not just KGB officers who lament the passing of the Soviet Union…

83 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

I presume you are talking about pan-Ukraine polls? Crimea-specific polls had a far higher pro-Russian sentiment, right?

84 Chris March 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Wrong. Crimea was only 40%, not pan-Ukraine. There was a slight, but noticeable, ongoing decline in Crimea in support of joining Russia from 1994-2014. This included the time period not just when Yanukovych was President, but also Yuschenko.

In Ukraine itself, there is almost no desire for joining Russia, even among ethnic Russians. Probably less than 10% across the entire country in normal conditions. Support for joining the Eurasian Customs Union is only around 30-40%, and that still retains Ukraine as an independent state – analgous in theory to the sovereignty of France or Germany in the EU (but more so). Support for Russia in Ukraine is more akin to not wanting to be enemies to fellow Eastern Slavs, so support for joining NATO is low, but it does not mean they want to be ruled by Moscow.

85 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

@Rahul, according to news reports, many opponents boycotted the poll, so that is one aspect. But still, the numbers don’t seem to add up. Crimea is only 58% Russian, so to get that level of support with 80% turnout, non-Russians would also have had to vote overwhelmingly for joining Russia, as well. That seems implausible.

86 HoB March 19, 2014 at 10:57 am

Why is it implausible? There are millions of people who are counted as Ukrainian (or whatever) on paper but who speak Russian and identify with Russia. Also, upon joining Russia all civil servant would get 300% pay rise (that’s the differential between Russian and Ukrainian government salaries). Wouldn’t you voted for unification in their place?

BTW, the 40% support in that poll was for joining the *whole* of Ukraine with Russia. This is a very different proposition and no wonder it had relatively lower support.

87 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 11:12 am

Multiple polls leading up to the referendum found 70-80% in favor of joining Russia. It’s not clear for each poll, but at least the 70% figure was among those who planned to vote in the referendum. I do not find the 96% plausible.,_2014#Polling

(Also, note that it was poll in which the only choices were union with Russia and increased autonomy within Ukraine. There was no way to vote for the status quo.)

88 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

But if you admit even 70% in favor of joining Russia, then the US-EU default position seems pretty weak? They can argue about technicalities, protocol etc. but if 70% favors union with Russia, then that seems the fair outcome.

89 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 11:49 am

@Rahul, the problem is with a poll after a de facto Russian invasion, conducted by the invading force, supervised and reported by Russia, which only offers two options that would both move Crimea closer to Russia.

I am in favor of self-determination; a poll conducted under these circumstances is not an exercise in self-determination. Nobody believes this poll is being carried out to actually determine the will of the people; it is simply a tool to legitimize Russian actions. And because of that, any result is pretty meaningless.

90 HoB March 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

By the way, the pro-Western Georgian president Saakashvili won his first election with 96%. No one ever found this the least bit suspicious.

91 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 1:00 pm

If opponents boycotted the poll they must have thought that they had no chance of winning and simply wanted the results to look illegitimate.

92 mishka March 19, 2014 at 10:16 pm

What happened in Kiev made a lot of things plausible. Listen to what guys in “Svoboda” party say (and who got major positions in the new gov’t).

But of course! You don’t understand the language. You haven’t seen them. You don’t know shit.

Still, having a strong opinion.

93 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

Not sure I see that much difference between 1 and 4. Maybe launching his armies across the Eurasian plains will give him a stiffy? If so, how is that different from being mad? Or what does it mean to be mad? All dictators had “logics” for their actions. Indeed, serial killers too are often said to act according to a specific internal logic. We still classify them as ‘mad’.

94 dirk March 19, 2014 at 8:40 am

1 would imply that his success so far has been due to a combination of aggression and luck. 4 would imply he’s much more calculating in his behavior but that his FP interests (say, getting a stiffy) are exotically different than those of a Western statesman’s.

95 Timothy March 19, 2014 at 8:54 am

I tend to think Obama gets a stiffy every time he drones a wedding.

96 anon March 19, 2014 at 9:22 am

What would Raylan do? WWRD

97 Sergey Kurdakov March 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

I won’t follow 1,2,3,4 points but my model of Putin is following.

The man really likes power and values instincts ( land grab feels just good, so it is good to land grab for him ). But being not very educated man, he has models of reality which could be accepted as only partially valid. Such as he thinks that ‘korean way of development with industrial Chaebols as locomotives is good’, that soft dictatorship is more effective, than democracy ( here he imagines outcomes in Singapore ), and he does not accept that models like these : have valid points ( he just is not aware of these models due to absence of any discussions of them in russian ). He also assumes that conservative attitudes ( including agressiveness ) are more ‘effective’ that liberal attitudes ( such that conservatives ( highly religious people ) have more children.

So he built some model of the world, where he imagined that he can make a real change ( it also has roots in soviet ideology which is based on premise, that it is possible to change the world for good, Putin just thinks that Marx/Lenin were wrong in basics, but that to change a world is really quite easy – one should find ‘right approaches’.
based on these internal models, and being quite a macho ( due to being officer most of his life ) he moves to achieve his goals with his models of reality quite rationally.

So he is irrational to assume that machismo and crude approximation of some observations that conservatism are best tools to achieve pragmatic goals, but he is rational to follow logical outcomes from his irrational expectations.

98 londenio March 19, 2014 at 8:11 am

Your “theory of Russians in general” should be informed by the toddler conductor, but also by teenagers with DIY bungee jumping
In other words, there is no simple general theory of Russians.

99 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 8:29 am

Also by a mess of chaps drunk-as-they-wanna-be out ice fishing.

100 bob March 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

Are you referring to Russia or Wisconsin?

101 Nate K March 19, 2014 at 8:13 am

I heard an interesting behavioral economics theory of Putin’s behavior on NPR. Because Putin is faced with a potential loss in Ukraine, he will be more likely to take risks than he would be if the situation concerned a potential gain (basic prospect theory). This doesn’t deny that he’s means-ends rational, but I think it helps to point out why he might depart from a stricter rationality and what the direction of that departure will be….he’ll take more risks than a purely rational subject would, not fewer.

102 Sergey Kurdakov March 19, 2014 at 8:24 am

I think this is a correct story. He faced a loss in Ukraine, but had a chance in face of Aksenov ( who offered to make a coup in Crimea – the man prepared it since January ) to compensate it ( Putin is really afraid of failures ). But as well Putin always thought on Crimea (quite a few mentions in his previous speeches ) and russian elites (and people from close Putin circle ) dreamed to return Crimea since 1992 discussions in parliament.

103 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 8:17 am

He’s a bit camp, Putin, isn’t he? Mind you, I find NFL camp, so perhaps I shouldn’t expect Americans to share my rigorous standards.

104 anon March 19, 2014 at 9:16 am



105 Danton March 19, 2014 at 9:31 am

The NFL is incredibly camp. I mean, the players are dressed like giant shiny penises and it’s all about entering the end zone for heavens sake! From the way the players line up at the snap to all the language about tight ends, wide receivers and “pounding it up the middle” it could make seasoned drag queen flush.

106 Danton March 19, 2014 at 9:34 am

*blush. lol.

107 Urso March 19, 2014 at 11:10 am

Either works.

108 anon March 19, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Model 5: Putin is a repressed homosexual who must constantly reaffirm his masculinity lest he be viewed as a “fag” and overthrown.

109 dirk March 19, 2014 at 8:20 am

I’m reminded of the line: “Power is sex for the old.” If his shirtless, super-alpha PR campaign signals anything, it’s that Putin gets off hard on images of himself as a Roissian superman, which is consistent with #4.

110 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:55 am

Sounds pretty much like what I think. But, for me, that’s nearly as good as 1.

111 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 8:20 am

5. He’s a Russian Bismarck.

112 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 9:26 am

Not at all. Bismarck was a publicity shy, behind the scenes manipulator that had no particular ideology except maintaining power.

113 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 9:41 am

Bismarck intended to put together as much territory inhabited by Germans as he could, under Prussian control, without provoking general war. He did it too.

114 Noumenon72 March 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

I feel like this option should at least be included. A list that goes “1. crazy 2. evil 3. evil 4. power-mad” is a bit blinkered.

115 louis March 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Not so blinkered if you consider his actions.
Bismarck himself is likely a 2 or a 4

116 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 8:22 am

The best long term American response to Putin would be to elect a grown-up to the Presidency. You’ve not done that since Bush the Elder. Though, to be fair, perhaps Romney was your only opportunity.

117 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 8:34 am

I can imagine a condescending disposition toward Obama, who is a consumer product marketed by David Plouffe and quite devoid of accomplishments; I can imagine that toward Clinton, who was close to a pure career politician with the mane of a late adolescent good-ol-boy playah. It makes little sense with regard to George W. Bush, a respectable middle-aged businessman who had spent twenty-odd years in executive positions.

118 Frederic Mari March 19, 2014 at 8:56 am

You cannot possibly be serious? This HAS to be dry irony…

119 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 9:05 am

May I correct your typo? “who had spent twenty-odd years on booze and drugs”.

120 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 9:12 am

He quit drinking in 1986. His history of drug use is murky. Other than a citation received in 1976 for obstructing traffic (driving too slowly under the influence), there is not any indication of personal problems derived from the use of intoxicants other than his own admissions. No academic failures, no job losses, no divorce, nothing. He was less focused in his young adult years than was his brother – hopped from job to job, in and out of the military, in and out of school, married late – but that’s true of a mess of people.

121 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 9:43 am

@Art Deco

That was a novel way to use “other than his own admissions”

122 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

No it’s not.

123 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 9:13 am

If you’d had an actual rejoinder, you’d have made it.

124 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

My actual rejoinder is that when I heard him explaining himself while he was President, I thought “Oh no this guy has a grasp of history and geography that would befit a teenager with a lousy schooling.” The chump invaded Iraq, for heaven’s sake.

Added to which, if he stopped boozing in ’86 that means he was a boozer for 20 years, unless you assume he was teetotal before he was twenty.
“His history of drug use is murky.” What does that mean? Has he ever claimed in public never to have taken drugs?

125 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 9:57 am

You’re not Mari and you’re not responding to my actual remarks. He quit drinking at 40. For some portion of the time between 1961 and 1986, his drinking was a problem. You have no clue what portion that was or how severe that was because there really are not any gross scandals or failures recorded during that time period. He finished high school, earned two academic degrees, did a stint in the military, had a mess of short term employments, ran for office once and did a pair of speaking tours for his father, ran a business (not a successful business, but most forays into business are not), got married, sired children. There’s nothing you can point to and say he ruined it with booze.

You’re first paragraph is indicative of a pathology in the political culture identified by Thomas Sowell: the tendency to confuse intelligence with articulateness. It’s superficial, of course, but that sort of superficiality is de riguer among a certain sort of bourgeios.

126 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 10:24 am

@Art Deco

What about IQ as a surrogate for intelligence? Is that acceptable?

The one academic work on this that I recall puts Bush at the very low tail of (imputed) presidential IQ distribution. Only 3 presidents do worse, I think.

127 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 10:54 am

You have a weakness for crank psychohistory, I take it.

See the disreputable Mr. Sailer on this point. The scores received by John Kerry and George W. Bush on examinations administered by the Navy and the Air National Guard place them around about the 88th percentile of the general population. John Kennedy was subjected to intelligence tests and scored about the same place. Since Bush has a graduate degree and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Ivy League institutions, the idea that he suffers general intellectual deficits is dubious. IIRC (and see Sowell on this point), his class rank at Yale was similar to Albert Gore’s at Harvard. Bush earned a graduate degree while Gore abandoned one attempt and failed at another. Kerry’s law school transcript was lackluster. John McCain was, by his own admission, an academic disaster, graduating in the bottom 2% of his college class.

Albert Gore was a lapsed newspaper reporter and legacy pol. John Kerry was a perfectly common-and-garden rank-and-file Boston lawyer. Bill Bradley earned his living from 1965 to 1977 in a branch of the entertainment business, earned no graduate degree, and had no military service nor a ready explanation of his service record. Robert Dole was an indominable and determined fellow, but he spent his entire life from age 29 in public office; his experience of law practice was acting as corporation counsel for a county with 12,000 people living in it. Patrick J. Buchanan spent his entire life as a journeyman writer and never managed anything other than his desk. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were professionally accomplished after a fashion; both were at least as skeezy as the Big He, however.

I am just not understanding this notion that George W. Bush was terribly out of place in his heats, unless admirers of Wesley Clark and Mitt Romney are a great deal more common than election returns would suggest.

128 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

@Rahul, are you referring to that bogus work that made the rounds on the internet?

129 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 1:39 pm


Nope. Simonton, D. K. (2006), Presidential IQ, Openness, Intellectual Brilliance, and Leadership: Estimates and Correlations for 42 U.S. Chief Executives. Political Psychology, 27: 511–526.

He seems to have solid academic credentials; 12,000 citations; h-index 55 apparently. Work could still be flawed but at least the guy isn’t some crank nor a hack. Journal seems respectable enough.

Anyways, internet hoax put Bush’s IQ at ~90. Simonton rates him at ~120. Not dumb by any ordinary metric. Perhaps just dumber than typical presidential material.

130 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

I cannot see how he can properly assess anyone who has not been subject to some sort of testing procedure, and only a few modern presidents have. An IQ of 120 is at the 89th percentile, just where you find John Kerry (per Sailer) and JFK. That’s roughly normal for a professional man, about 0.4 sd above the median for college graduates.

131 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm

@Rahul, I stand corrected: someone actually did this. That said, it is obviously utter crap.

132 dbp March 19, 2014 at 9:41 am

Nailed it!

133 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

The dig at W’s IQ is misdirected, if we mean his IQ in his early 20s. It was higher than JFK’s for instance; what W’s IQ was by the time he was President, Lord knows; it presumably depends on what he’d done to it with booze and drugs. But it’s not entirely pertinent; everyone assumes than Clinton had a pretty handy IQ but you couldn’t accuse him of being grown-up. He was just a mass of adolescent appetites, nastiness and vanity, as far as I could see.

134 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

If Conservatives had to pick their favorite Democrat president over, say, the last 50 years who would it be? Clinton?

135 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

For me, Jimmy Carter, if you remove Harry Truman from the frame.

136 Matt March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm

GWB has a high IQ. I doubt he was a good president, but there is enough evidence out there for an unbiased observer to conclude his IQ is substantially above average.

137 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm

GWB is the only president ever to have an MBA.

138 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I thought that Carter got a bit of a bum rap. Compared to a reckless ass like JFK, or an ogre like LBJ, or the recent adolescents, he wasn’t too bad. He was no Eisenhower, I’ll grant you. But nor were most postwar Republican presidents either. Still, at least Nixon was interesting. No adolescent he. Fit for a Shakespearean tragedy, I suspect.

139 msgkings March 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm
140 msgkings March 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm

All the modern presidents are plenty smart including W. Doesn’t make them good (or bad) presidents.

Also, most of how we decide who is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at the job comes from our priors of course. Also, a lack of humility in the sense that not a single poster here could have done a better job than any of them.

141 TMC March 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm

GWB did have Putin put in his place. The missile defense placed in Poland really pissed him off, but he could do nothing about it. After Obama was elected he was free to do as he wanted.

142 prognostication March 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Are we forgetting Georgia?

143 RM March 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I like Bush Elder. But, he is responsible for one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy disasters, which coincidentally is pertinent to this discussion: In typical American impatience and haste, he hastened the demise of Gorbachev. Gorbachev understood one thing that most Americans policy makers don’t get: the need for slow transformation.

if we had nurtured rather than undermined Gorbachev, the world would have been a much different place today.

144 dan1111 March 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Ahh, counterfactuals! We have no idea if the world would have been a better place if we had supported Gorbachev.

145 RM March 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Point taken. But do you seriously believe that the drunk Yeltsin was better than Gorbachev?

146 Pensans March 19, 2014 at 8:27 am

Is Obama rational?

147 Tarrou March 19, 2014 at 8:30 am

Putin is quintessentially Russian. In my years there I developed a great fondness for the people, but they did have a bewildering view of state power and a level of enthusiasm for the annexation, invasion and control of other nations I doubt any American can truly appreciate. When I asked a friend of mine who said he though they should retake the Eastern Bloc nations why, he replied that Russia should take over any country that bordered it. Russians as a whole genuinely believe in something like Manifest Destiny, only not limited by any geographical features. Putin is just indulging in most of his countrymen’s fondest dream, which is the continual expansion of Russian territory. Do note how popular this move has been internally.

148 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 9:07 am

“a level of enthusiasm for the … invasion and control of other nations I doubt any American can truly appreciate”: except those who have actually attempted them, presumably?

149 Michael G. Heller March 19, 2014 at 8:33 am

Great post. If there is a time to get personal about a leader this is it. Get personal about Putin. Also, quite separately, procedural rationality is fascinating issue discussed in my book Capitalism, Institutions, and Economic Development. There are four basic human interests, procedural interest happens to be the most neglected interest in social science, and every interest can be pursued rationally by intention. Herbert Simon once said “procedural rationality will become one of the central concerns of economics over the next 25 years”. It didn’t happen. It could though. I’ll be back with more eventually.

150 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

What are the four basic human interests? Never knew!

151 Michael G. Heller March 19, 2014 at 10:12 am

Ideals, materials, status, procedure. Now you know. It’s elementary Marxism, Putin knows.

152 Mark Thorson March 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hunger, sex, money, and procedure.

153 XVO March 19, 2014 at 8:34 am

Crimea, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are all Russia. Since or before the fall of the Commonwealth and Crimean Khanate in the late 1700s.

This is just the first step of the restoration of order to the world. Europe and the US can’t and won’t stop it, what will they do start throwing nukes around? Because Russia annexes Russia? Will Europe allow itself to go without heat for that? No, and Putin knows it.

154 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 8:44 am

Crimea, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are all Russia

Lithuania has hardly any ethnic Russians and those in Latvia and Estonia do not exceed a quarter of the population thereof (and many of these are descendants of recent colonists). Russia did not acquire Estonia and Latvia until 1710 and did not acquire Lithuania until 1795. They lost all three in 1918.

Looking forward to your exposition on the inevitable Spanish reconquest of the Philippines.

155 XVO March 19, 2014 at 8:54 am

Then promptly gained them back within 25 years! Derka derp I said “Since or BEFORE” so I didn’t need your butt hurt history lesson.

Only a Balt would would take such objection to clear hyperbole.

Pfft, everyone knows the Philippines belongs to the USA.

156 anon March 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

The Pfft is a nice touch.

157 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 9:47 am

…….and then promptly lost them again within 50 years.

158 XVO March 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm

And then gained them back again again 25 years later?

159 prognostication March 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all speak languages that aren’t even in the same family as Russian. And Russian ethnic populations there are minorities.

Also, several of those countries are NATO members and therefore have formal security guarantees from the west, as opposed to Ukraine which had only security assurances. These are major differences.

160 XVO March 19, 2014 at 7:57 pm

The Czar does not care for your language families, he didn’t in 1814 or 1914 he doesn’t in 2014.

The US response has been tepid on Ukraine, will we risk losing millions of our own people for some Balts (I just learned a new slur)? As far as anyone can tell the US has no stomach for a war with a real power, they couldn’t defeat the Taliban, what chance do they have of beating Russia, another people who are undefeated in total war.

161 Rahul March 20, 2014 at 12:36 am


It’s interesting that you bring up the Taliban to slight the US, knowing Russia’s stellar history in Afganistan.

162 tt March 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

while we are restoring empires lets not forget the Accadian,Rashidum, Mongol and of course the Roman

163 XVO March 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Isn’t it strange how people react to the truth of how many russians think as if smugness is all that’s needed to make Russia stop.

164 Z March 19, 2014 at 8:35 am

I think #4 is in there for comic relief. Is there a place on earth where power is not the currency of the elites? Obama did not run for President because he got tired or community organizing. The former Weathermen who sponsored him did not do that simple because he reminded them of a young Huey. As the saying goes, what good is politics if you can’t reward your friends and punish your enemies?

As I wrote on my award winning blog, Putin has one main advantage over the West. He knows himself. Western leaders appear to be totally mystified by Putin and the cultural outlook of his coevals. That’s because the theology of the West rejects culture so thoroughly and completely, they cannot conceive of anyone clinging to it. The Russians look around and see low birth rates, their culture eroding, savages encroaching from the Caucuses and materialist fanatics coming from the West. They are acting accordingly.

165 It's Over March 19, 2014 at 11:02 am

Exactly. I understand that Western political elites currently think it’s a little gauche to annex the land of a neighbor, but all this handwringing over whether or not Putin is nuts is silly. He just wants a different kind of power. I doubt that the Chinese are agonzing over what is going through Putin’s mind; it’s not that complicated.

166 fkuz March 19, 2014 at 8:37 am

Imagine that one of your closest cousins lives next door to you. Imagine that the relations between you and this cousin have been somewhat uneasy but mostly civil and polite for a long, long time; that the assumption on both sides seems to have been that being part of the same greater family would prevent any real feuds from ever happening.
Now imagine that you sneak into your cousin’s apartment and steal a precious antique vase, on the pretext that the vase, which was given as a gift to your cousin by your rambunctious uncle 60 years ago, by rights really ought to belong to you – because the uncle was crazy, and because you consider the vase your own family heirloom, not your cousin’s.
So, your cousin discovers the theft and what had previously been a civilly uneasy relationship turns into an openly hostile one. Furthermore, all of the neighbours are horrified and are starting to speak out against you. Furthermore, your own teenage kids, outraged by what they see as your cowardly, base act, turn on you and start plotting to kick you out of your own house…

167 NNM March 19, 2014 at 8:38 am

To be more precise: We sit on pillows and read Grantland.

168 Z March 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

I’ll also note that Western thinkers have a homo-erotic attraction to Putin that is a bit amusing to me. They always post pics of the man going shirtless. I think that plays into it as well.

169 The Other Jim March 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

No, it’s not homo-erotic, they just see him as a movie character. Schwarzenegger, basically. Much like they want to see Obama wearing shades and standing next to Jay-Z.

It would be “amusing” if these people did not have jobs that are actually important.

170 ummm March 19, 2014 at 8:43 am

Whichever of the four options most likely results in nothing happening. There will be quiet resolution to this

171 Sergey Kurdakov March 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

Yes, because the outcome depends not much of what Putin is, but what tools he has in his hands. He has oil/natural gas and world has some shortage of these resources ( there are substitutions, like nuclear power and electric cars, but elites do not bother much to push these forward ), he has nuclear weapons, so he could avoid really harsh things like military response. Again, it is still possible to finish a sort of Strategy Defense Initiative attempt – lasers in space to kill warheads, but it is too costly.

but realistically it is possible on 10+ years horizon to influence Putin or any who will follow him as a head of Russia quite on a large scale. Russia without oil/nat gas exports and without much other trade with a world ( as it does not pursue this ) will be weaker, than currently Ukraine.

172 Z March 19, 2014 at 9:22 am

I said when this started that the Germans will sell Ukraine back to Russia for cheap gas. At the next G7 I expect Merkel to push the US aside and take control of things. The provincial dimwits running US policy are too dangerous to leave in charge.

173 charlie March 19, 2014 at 8:45 am

May I suggest “OIl and Power in Russia” as required reading before hitting “submit”

174 affenkopf March 19, 2014 at 11:01 am

May I suggest “Foundations of Geopolitics” as required reading before interpreting Russian policy.

175 Bill March 19, 2014 at 8:48 am

Putin lost Ukraine and needed to save face saving distraction. He couldn’t invade Grenada or Panama.

176 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

Neither the invasion of Grenada nor the invasion of Panama were face-saving distractions. They were a surgical removal of irritants.

He’s embarrassed, the situation’s up for grabs, so he takes a piece off the board.

177 Z March 19, 2014 at 9:27 am

I’m not sure embarrassed has anything to do with his thinking. The Russians have a long view while the Americans can’t think past lunch. The State Department mucked around in Ukraine because they could. They had no plan. Putin looked the situation and saw he could profit from it.

Right now he can quietly reach out to the French and Germans offering some trivial concessions they will gladly take to get this off the table. It offers him another chance to embarrass Obama and gets the Europeans to sign off on his acquisition. By summer the Republicans in Washington will be claiming Obama “lost Ukraine.”

178 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

The Russians have a long view while the Americans can’t think past lunch.

Americans think past lunch much better than Russians do because Americans are committed to spending most of their time in a state other than blotto.

179 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 9:53 am

“The Russians have a long view while the Americans can’t think past lunch?” Really?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that you were ranting about self-loathing? About hatred of oneself, one’s coevals and one’s culture? Suicidal self-hatred?

Et tu?

180 Z March 19, 2014 at 10:35 am

So? What’s your point? The self-loathing are more prone to short-term thinking than the confident. As the saying goes, a confident nation is one where old men plant trees in hos shade they will never sit.

181 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 11:09 am

When someone critiques American missile handling procedures he gets a diatribe about self-loathing? But OTOH it’s perfectly OK the very next day to bash Americans as guys who cannot think past their lunch?

182 anon March 19, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Slavs are self-loathing.

-mimic Western culture and ideals but despise them simultaneously
-drink themselves silly
-“The Russian Fool” is a common archetype in Russian literature. Drunk, smelly, idiotic, but kind
-invade countries to make themselves feel better

Crime and Punishment

183 Andrew C March 19, 2014 at 8:52 am

In this case it really doesn’t make sense to model Europe as a single entity. Most probably want to keep out, but the Visegrad 4 formed their battle group for a reason and they’ve got to be concerned that they could end up back on the chopping block down the line if Russia keeps successfully invading it’s neighbors. Considering only the EU as a whole or those members that can project power internationally makes sense when looking at Cina or the Middle East, but not Eastern Europe.

184 Donald Pretari March 19, 2014 at 9:02 am

He reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt. Also, I’d prefer a simpler choice, say, Is He a Hedgehog or a Fox?

185 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Foxy hedgehog.

186 Benjamin Cole March 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

Putin once said that Russia and the USA should be allies.

If he was our ally, how would we frame his takeover, or annexation, of Crimea?

We are allies with many nations with even fewer civil rights than Russia. Saudi Arabia comes to mind, and Afghanistan for that matter (do not convert to Christianity in Afghanistan, they will execute you).

How do women fare in new Iraq is question I don’t like to think about.

This is the lede from the NYT story–

ATOTSI, Georgia — As Crimeans danced in the streets this week, giddy at the prospect of being gathered into Russia, few were watching as closely as the residents of the tiny mountainous enclave of South Ossetia, who, five and a half years ago, were similarly ecstatic.

They are dancing in the streets?

Interesting question: Why are we not allies with Russia, or why do we see them as an adversary?

Because of Crimea? Seems kind of small potatoes….

187 Bob from Ohio March 19, 2014 at 10:25 am

Because of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Countries that are our allies and hate (with good reason) the Russians.

188 XVO March 19, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Because, Russia is a threat. They are a threat to our culture and a threat to our safety. They have not adopted the European and Japanese model of vassalization and demilitarization. If they were willing to accept US world dominance and accept liberal/social democracy in full they could be our allies.

189 jseliger March 19, 2014 at 9:30 am

Minor typo: ” I expect he keep the West” should be “I expect he will…” or “I expect he wants to…”

190 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 9:52 am

Long-distance psychoanalysis of Putin brings up a point applicable to the selection of US leaders. Why aren’t potential presidents vetted for their psychological characteristics as well as their financial assets and educational background? The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. would be particularly fertile ground for psychiatric inquiry. Grandson of a man that gave his daughter a male first name, son of a woman with a serial matrimony addiction to tawny exotics and son of an unusual example of post-colonial British neo-tribalist social climbers, he’s a wealth of genetic raw material. The environmental factors are interesting as well, a mixed-race male raised by a single mother and her Caucasian parents in an exclusive enclave in a US colony, then exposed to multiple cultural influences, ultimately a poster child for diversity at the most prestigious educational institution in the western hemisphere. Takes a major demotion to the position of community organizer on the border between an affluent liberal neighborhood and a grim ghetto before being launched into politics by a cadre of power hungry flacks. It’s incomprehensible that in a nation where the behavior of inconsequentials like Miley Cyrus, the Kardashian family, Lindsay Lohan and Tom Cruise are the subjects of regular psychological speculations, a more professional approach in the same vein isn’t taken toward presidential candidates.

191 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 10:10 am

Serious clinicians tend to be rather reticent about people they haven’t interviewed and unserious ones are partisan Democrats (e.g. the crew who signed letters denouncing Barry Goldwater in 1964).

Hawaii was not a juridical colony in 1961 and there was nothing particularly exclusive about the neighborhood in which his grandparents lived. They had a condominium in a high rise, which is fairly common among bourgeois in Honolulu.

He was employed prior to 1986 as a copy editor for a company which produced corporate newsletters. It’s a more serious way to make a living than ‘community organizer’, but leaving that job was not a ‘major demotion’. The lawyers I correspond with offer that Obama’s activities between 1991 and 1996 suggest a lawyer who had no interest in actually practicing law.

Suggest what leaps out at you about his upbringing is that his mother was willful and self-centered to an abnormal degree. I tend to doubt he cared much about her in the final analysis and he may have been so ruined during the period running from 1961 to 1971 that he has a hard time caring about anyone.

192 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 10:21 am

Hawaii is a colony to this day. Ask the few remaining native Hawaiians.

193 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

Why should I? Polynesians have not been a majority in Hawaii since around about 1885 and are not verified to have ever exceeded 130,000 in number on those islands prior to 1898. (Polynesians and metis are about 20% of the population of Hawaii, as we speak. Seems more than ‘a few’).

194 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

Since when is the demographics of a place indicative of its status as a colony? And what do “Polynesians and metis” (a term generally used to describe the offspring of the French and natives on the Canadian plains) have to do with the native Hawaiians?

195 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Hawaiians are polynesians. No Hawaii is not a colony. It is juridically integral and the polynesian population has long since been displaced by migrants.

196 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

If you had even a scintilla of significance in any way it might be worthwhile to analyze your own diseased personality but you don’t and and it isn’t.

197 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Hawaiians are polynesians and therefore I’m diseased. Got it.

198 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 11:10 am

“Why aren’t potential presidents vetted for their psychological characteristics as well as their financial assets and educational background?” Or indeed their American citizenship? For how long did he prevaricate before he brought forth a purported birth certificate? (Just to be clear: I no more think he was born in Kenya than that he was born on Venus. But it seems bonkers to have a Constitution that demands he be a natural born American, and yet have no efficient way of checking it.)

199 chuck martel March 20, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Their political opponents have made very emphatic statements on the intelligence of both GWB and Sarah Palin. How is IQ measured by edited appearances on television? Perhaps driver licenses should be awarded on the basis of the behavior exhibited before security cameras at C-stores. At any rate, we don’t seem to hear much about the possible low level of intelligence of the current CinC. Why do people correlate a mediocre level of talent in public speaking with advanced intelligence? Or is there something else that indicates he’s a genius? If so, what is it?

200 A B March 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Tom Riddle also was the product of a mixed marriage, also identified with his father’s lineage more than his mother’s, also graduated from his community’s leading institutions of learning, and also immediately took a demotion, too, working for an antiques dealer. Hmm…

201 louis March 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm


202 EA FH March 19, 2014 at 9:55 am

I think Tyler’s deep insights (yes, I have to admit he is pretty darn smart) come out in this post – and I am not being lame or brown-nosing. Indeed, he has very simply put four conceptions of rationality, where we pretty much understand the first three, while we are not sure even if the fourth exists. In that sense, is the the world in reason 4 one where the Lucasian critique does not stand, and as such, makes political (and derived economic) forecasting meaningless. (Serious) answers will be appreciated.

203 Just Another MR Commentor March 19, 2014 at 10:03 am

And yet BitCoin keeps going up, Stocks are up, Bay area real estate is surgining. These sorts of annexations are outdated, once political leaders realize the power of the blockchain to solve these geostrategic issues all will be better off.

204 Andrew' March 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

He is wooing Sarah Palin.

205 Matt D. March 19, 2014 at 11:05 am

It is hard for me to sympathize with the typical reactions to recent events exemplified by Tyler and most of the comments here. Annexing Crimea may be wrong but it is not extreme and not particularly worrying. I understand that foreign policy types in the US and EU are gunning for making Russia as weak and handicapped as possible, so I completely understand their rhetoric. But it is hard for me to understand why so many educated observers can’t see that rhetoric for what it is.

206 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 11:14 am

Rattling the bear’s cage is foolish. So what is the motive? A search for more territory for corporate America to dominate? Or just the self-interest of military men, State Department officials, and the like?

207 Marian Kechlibar March 19, 2014 at 11:20 am

Speaking from Central Europe, we have all kinds of historically supported worries that the Drang nach Westen will not stop at Crimea.

The border of the Soviet power used to be on the Elbe, and the rhetorical construction about “fascist governments that oppress their population which needs to be liberated by Russian troops” has been in constant use since about 1920.

If you were a native of the Baltic countries, you would be particularly worried now. It is completely rational.

208 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 11:41 am

Yes, worried. The thing is, the Baltic states are members of NATO and concentrations of ethnic Russians in the Baltics are limited to a few cities. Take an awful lot of brass on Putin’s part to attempt to seize them.

209 Ed March 19, 2014 at 11:16 am

Putin’s brain is not polluted with effeminate academic drivel. He makes no apologies for Russia warts and all. While our leaders struggle with accepting the notion that the USA is exceptional, Russia embraces it even though it’s accomplishments pale in comparison. Our dominant cultural view today is the belief that Western Civilization is responsible for all that is wicked in the world. Can’t make accurate observations lest they offend someone. There is no self-doubt among Russian leaders. One Putin aide recently bragged about the ability to turn the USA into nuclear ash and laughed at being out on the sanction list. He said the only things he needed from the USA were Jackson Polluck and Tupac. No visas needed.

On Drudge today there is a link about transsexuals breaking through the don’t ask don’t tell policy of the military. I bet Putin is shaking in his boots.

210 Marian Kechlibar March 19, 2014 at 11:25 am

What about pollution by the ‘might makes right” concept?

Professional politicians should never, ever be recruited from ranks of law enforcement or spy agencies. This mindset at work inevitably creates a police state.

211 Nathan W March 19, 2014 at 11:18 am

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t like Putin.

But why is it “evil” for him to want to extend his power (or that of Russia) and “good” for us to extend ours?

Do you not see the double standard? His diplomacy surrounding Crimea largely revolves around making the world aware of double standards, and that’s why we are hamstrung.

212 Marian Kechlibar March 19, 2014 at 11:23 am

There is some problem with the American culture, where the Americans need to see themselves as “the good guys”, whatever they do. As a consequence, the other side are “the bad guys”.

I am absolutely no friend of Putin as well, but I do not see the need to recast the situation in a moral cloak. This is classical imperialism and if American allies are threatened, they should be protected because they are allies, not because of the moral narrative.

213 Rahul March 19, 2014 at 11:35 am

I don’t see it as an American fault. How often in recent history has a territorial expansion not been couched in language of fairness, justice, morality, humanity, ethnic solidarity etc.?

If there’s hypocrisy it’s pervasive in international diplomacy & perhaps modern civilization itself.

214 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 11:42 am

There is some problem with the American culture, where the Americans need to see themselves as “the good guys”, whatever they do.

You do not pay much attention to our academics and journalists, do you?

215 Marian Kechlibar March 20, 2014 at 6:38 am

Your points are very valid (both Rahul and Art Deco). There is nothing specifically American about hypocrisy and gullibility per se. Yet it seems to be that the gullibility in the USA is much more widespread in the “top half” of the IQ Bell Curve. Perhaps this is typical for high-trust societies, that even smart people lack healthy cynicism with regard to their political class.

216 Art Deco March 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

You misunderstood my point completely. Our chatterati do not see our soldiers and officialdom as ‘the good guys’. In fact, there’s a pronounced tendency to invent iniquity and incompetence where it is not present.

217 HoB March 19, 2014 at 11:25 am

One way to understand Putin is to listen to what he says. I know, revolutionary.

Yeah, much of what he has to say is self-serving, disingenuous, etc. He is a politician after all. But if you look closely there are nuggets of real Putin coming through. For example, this bit from his most recent Crimea speech ( seemed quite heart-felt:

“Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.”

Read the whole thing and especially this section.

218 Marian Kechlibar March 19, 2014 at 11:28 am

… and as long as the former Union republic has a minion of Moscow in power, the local Russians are conveniently forgotten.

Seriously, population means nothing in Russia. Cannon fodder and a source of mobs, yes, but no one in charge is troubled about what the peasants think. It is the nomenklatura who matters and decides.

219 HoB March 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

You obviously feel contempt for the Russians. Which is fine, but your opinion should be discounted accordingly. And by the way, if by “minion of Moscow” you mean Yanukovich, you are very wrong.

220 Marian Kechlibar March 20, 2014 at 6:41 am

I don’t feel contempt for Russians.

I nevertheless think that what I wrote is fairly accurate description of the real relationship between the top circles and the population in Russia, and the tradition of autocracy and serious social stratification goes uninterrupted back well into the Middle Ages.

Consider the extent of hazing in the Russian army. It is insanely high and violent, a murderous problem in fact. The authorities do absolutely nothing about it. It is a good mirror of their attitude to the young men as cannon fodder and nothing else.

221 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 11:57 am

Can’t we make some comparisons between Putin and Lincoln?

222 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I was thinking of doing that when I intruded Bismarck into the conversation. Then I thought better of it; some truths are just too painful.

223 Ricardo March 19, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Lincoln rose to national prominence by opposing the idea (then embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act) that settlers in federal territories should be allowed to vote to legalize slavery. How does this compare to Putin?

224 chuck martel March 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm

How were those federal territories obtained, anyway? Didn’t Lincoln have something to do with some kind of skirmish between ostensibly sovereign states?

225 Brian Donohue March 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

“I think it very unwise to give up what we hold.” Queen Victoria, let’s psychoanalyze her.

Russia never gave up the Crimea. Ukraine was part of the USSR, and even since the break-up, they have been in Russia’s sphere of influence, not least because of sizable energy subsidies. When Kruschev ‘gave’ the Crimea to Ukraine, there was never any thought about Ukraine leaving Russia’s orbit. Russia’s Black Sea fleet has continuously been stationed in the Crimea.

And it’s still not clear to me that a poor country like Ukraine can turn its back on Russia unless somebody comes along and makes up those subsidies. But just in case, Russia is hiving off what it has always considered its rightful piece, and all evidence suggest a sizable majority of Crimeans (not 96%, but…) are on board.

Nothing to see here.

226 Tom March 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Youtube caption says conducting baby is from Kyrgyzstan — did you mean she is an ethnically Russian Kyrgyz?

227 Roman Plotnikov March 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm

My take…

First, I agree with some commenters here it is incorrect to use the word ‘evil’ here. Not even incorrect as in factually incorrect, but in the sense that it is not a calm and correct approach to discussion.

Putin is cold and rational person who lives in a world of Post-Cold War institutions. For him geopolitics is a serie of low-key political battles. You pull some diplomatic trick here, make a deal there, that kind of stuff. Win some, lose some, but in the end it’s the same club of gentlemens and the same unwritten rules. Those little confrontations are not a matter of life and death in the same way boxers exchange blows without real desire to kill. For Russia, Ukraine is this little low key game with EU. There is not much at stake besides the price of gas. Pro-West Timoshenko was even better for Russia than nominally pro-East Yanukovich.

All changed with 2014 Maidan. Using the pretext of Yanukovich delaying the association with the EU, American-sponsored oligarchs and ultra-right groups broke all agreements, overthrew a government and plunged Ukraine into chaos. That, as Putin views it, breaks The Rules of the Game. It’s like somebody turning a game of poker into a knife fight. Of course Putin is enraged! At the time his hands were tied with Olympics, USA had Russia cornered by potentially making Ukraine a new Somali.
1) Ukraine now is a failed state. No order, nazi thugs in power, disorganized police force and government “elected” on the bayonettes of the said thugs. Nobody to even make deals with as the real power is with Maidan gangs.
2) The very real threats of making Ukraine a part of NATO and exiling Russian fleet from Crimea – a strategic threat of the utmost importance. If Putin doesn’t do something, the consequences might be catastrophic.
3) The threats to ethnic Russians of Ukraine, the possibility of ethnic cleansings or, worse, a civil war. With millions dead, millions refugees, a zone of uncontrolled chaos right on the border. And yes, there are groups of Nazis from the Western Ukraine that really do have no qualms with killing or exiling Russians, and now they have weapons and power. Putin can’t let that slide because his support in Russia could be destroyed. In 1990’s, a lot of Russians were exiled or killed in the local conflicts in the ex-USSR countries. That was a really low point for Russia. Putin definetely doesn’t want to be seen as a betrayer of his nation now.

In the end, Putin is really rational. He can’t risk losing Crimea, so he supports it secession and consequent accession. That eliminates a point of weakness for Russia right away. He needs to prevent ethnic cleansings, so he threatens military intervention should they start. The Ukraine goes into war hysteria, but at least it puts itself together. Its army is tied into pointless border stand-off. Now, Putin can negotiate from the position of force.

In the end, he doesn’t need Ukraine whole, so he won’t invade its mainland. Ukraine is a bag without handles. Maybe a third of population will support the invasion, the third will fight in guerilla warfare, the rest will just create problems. Better solve Ukrainian problems by actions that don’t involve firing even a single bullet. And for his negotiations with EU and USA, he will adopt a very tough stance and too will do things that weren’t in the Rules previously. It’s perfectly rational. In the repeating games, it is better to cooperate until somebody breaks the rules – then it is an eye for an eye. Putin won’t bulge from his positions no matter what, because USA must be punished for violating the spirit of the game. He needs Ukraine federalized, but whole sans Crimea. He needs it out of NATO, though for EU they can do what they want. He needs the Right Sector and other such groups exterminated and the government and law restored. The rights of the ethnic Russians must be upheld.

But after the punishment is done, a rational actor in the continious game must show benevolence. Should USA step back from the conflict, Putin will de-escalate and the tensions will eventually cool down. EU doesn’t really want a complete collapse of Ukraine too, it seems. Tough luck that USA is lead by people who don’t seem to be able to de-escalate either with them threatening military action against Assad in Syria once again seemengly out of pure spite. If we scrutinize this whole situation, it is not easy to choose which side is morally ‘evil’.

228 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm

“If we scrutinize this whole situation, it is not easy to choose which side is morally ‘evil’. ” Why would you restrict it to one side?

229 Traxler March 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm

This is one of the best comments (and most insightful perspectives) I’ve read on Putin and the Ukrainian crisis in the past few weeks. Kudos.

230 Max March 19, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Your analysis is based on a very flawed interpretation of Maydan. You’re describing it exactly like it’s described in the Russian media for the purpose of brainwashing the Russians and everyone else who uses Russian media as the primary information source. The real situation on the ground is very different. Following your points:

1. While there’s a significant right wing element, it’s far from being the dominant force. The government is as legitimate as it can be in this situation (the Constitution of Ukraine lacks explicit resolution for the case of the President abdicating de facto with no explicit declaration, so some improvisation was unavoidable). All voting in the Rada was voluntary – Yanukovich was the only one who was able to maintain cohesion in the ranks of the majority, and once he went MIA (even before his escape to Kharkov, he stopped meeting with MPs, being busy collecting valuables in Mezhigore), PR MPs started jumping ship.

2. Ukraine and NATO wasn’t on the agenda until the Crimean invasion. Stating that this consideration influenced Putin’s decision is putting the wagon in front of the horse.

3. The threat to ethnic Russians (or, to be more precise, Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine – equating ethnicity and language in Ukraine is sloppy) is imaginary. The only Russian speakers afraid of the new government are those who consume TV programs made in Russia. Their numbers are high simply because of the popularity of Russian TV in Eastern Ukraine. But even among those relatively few would support Russian invasion – your “third” is wishful thinking.

So, when you say that Putin’s actions are the reaction to the above, you either suggest that Putin believes the lies fabricated by the media under his orders, or you’re being disingenuous yourself.

(Or I could just say that your analysis is a load of propaganda BS, but I felt it wouldn’t be appropriate in this forum.)

231 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm

‘it is incorrect to use the word ‘evil’ here.’

No, it is perfect – Americans don’t have interests which others oppose, they have evil enemies.

And often, Americans are really good at framing issues by their own lights – for example, post-Soviet nations have fought wars which did not involve Russian forces where territory has exchanged hands, but none of them were ‘European states.’

232 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm

The Taliban are evil. The Iraqi Ba’athists are evil. al Qaeda is evil. The VietNamese Communists are evil. The Khmer Rouges were stupefyingly evil. The Chicoms were evil. The North Korean Communists are evil.

233 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 1:42 pm

‘The Taliban are evil’

They weren’t when we were supporting them – ‘In the late 1980s, Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, concerned about the growing strength of the Islamist movement, told President George H. W. Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.”[35]

The U.S. says that all of its funds went to native Afghan rebels and denies that any of its funds were used to supply Osama bin Laden or foreign Arab mujahideen. However, even a portion of those native Afghan rebels would form parts of the Taliban, fighting against the US military.’

‘The Iraqi Ba’athists are evil.’

I’ll let you find the picture of a smiling Donald Rumsfeld shaking Hussien’s hand. Here is the background, though – ‘Rumsfeld was appointed special envoy to the Middle East by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983. Rumsfeld was dispatched on a tour of the region shortly thereafter.

In December 1983, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq William L. Eagleton Jr. proposed a meeting between Rumsfeld and Iraqi officials as part of that trip. The Iraqis responded that the proposed timing of the visit “would not be convenient.” A schedule change was offered on the condition that Iraq’s president would receive Rumsfeld during the trip.

“The Iraqis will be aware that by meeting their scheduling needs he will expect to see Saddam Hussein,” the Dec. 7 cable states. “The atmosphere for such a visit should be positive.”

A message from President Reagan was drafted for the trip.

“I have become convinced of the important role Iraq can play in helping bring greater peace to the Middle East,” Reagan wrote in the Dec. 8 draft.’

‘al Qaeda is evil’

But the Bin Laden family gets a special plane to leave the U.S. after Sept. 11 – it isn’t a secret, though it isn’t the same as saying we supported Osama Bin Laden directly.

‘The VietNamese Communists are evil’

And yet, strangely, the Vietnamese disagree – to the extent that the U.S. was forced to leave a conflict that had involved both the French and the Japanese, followed by our attempt to prop up government structures that weren’t communist in the south, followed by a Chinese Communist invasion – apparently, the Vietnamese are uninterested in the opinions of outsiders, and willing to pay a huge price to keep it that way.

‘The Khmer Rouges were stupefyingly evil.’

They were – shame that our secret bombing didn’t work out better – ‘An official United States Air Force record of US bombing activity over Indochina from 1964 to 1973 was declassified by US President Bill Clinton in 2000. The report gives details of the extent of the bombing of Cambodia, as well as of Laos and Vietnam. According to the data, the Air Force began bombing the rural regions of Cambodia along its South Vietnam border in 1965 under the Johnson administration. This was four years earlier than previously believed. The Menu bombings were an escalation of these air attacks. Nixon authorized the use of long-range B-52 bombers to carpet bomb the region.’

‘The Chicoms were evil.’

Interesting use of the past tense there. Apart from our trade deficit with them, have the Chicoms actually changed all that much? (Not talking about Mao being dead – much like Stalin dying, it isn’t just about a cult of personality being conveniently blamed for the evil of the system, even if peak evil can be laid at their feet.)

‘The North Korean Communists are evil.’

Finally, an example where one has to stretch pretty hard to find any plausible American responsibility for what occurred.

234 Art Deco March 19, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I am afraid the eight digit death tolls registered in China over the period running from 1949 to 1976 make the perpetrators evil. That includes the period we were fighting them in Korea.

They weren’t when we were supporting them – ‘In the late 1980s,

You’ve confounded the Taliban with the collection of insurrectionist opposing the Afghan puppet government, which were the ancestors of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban did not exist in 1988.

The United States government was not responsible for anything done by the Khmer Rouge. Shawcross’ 1979 thesis was so poorly argued that it is doubtful he believes it.

I am not interested in urban legends about bin Laden’s relatives. Nor do their travel plans alter the nature of al Qaeda.

The rest of your points are equally irrelevant. You’re really a piece of work.

235 Larry March 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm

We dealt with a lot of people that we knew were evil during the Cold War and afterwards. That doesn’t make them not evil. Their acts justify those judgments. We deal with some evil regimes today and likely always will. When we have a chance we should cut them loose, as we have done repeatedly as circumstances allowed.

236 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

‘as we have done repeatedly as circumstances allowed’

Ot set up our own people – Pinochet didn’t kill that many people after all, compared to what would have happened, right? At least in the fevered imaginations of those who defend people like Pinochet.

237 prior_approval March 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Nope, the Taliban as a coherent movement was only a dream of ISL’s in 1988 ( – but then, without our enthusiastic support of anything that ISL was up to, it is hard to imagine Pakistan being able to afford the Taliban without our help in light of the Cold War framework involved – which was the point of Bhutto’s observation (and she was also a victim of that broad Islamist stream which developed under America’s attempt to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan – )

‘The United States government was not responsible for anything done by the Khmer Rouge.’

Nope – we were merely responsible for destabilizing Cambodia in pursuit of victory in Vietnam. Just part of how the domino theory worked out in practice, as compared to theory. And the secret American bombings were a bipartisan effort, one should note.

‘I am not interested in urban legends about bin Laden’s relatives’

Quoted from National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States final report (but if you wish to call that an ‘urban legend,’ be my guest) – ‘These flights were screened by law enforcement officials, primarily the FBI. For example, one flight, the so-called Bin Ladin flight, departed the United States on September 20 with 26 passengers, most of them relatives of Usama Bin Ladin. Screening of this flight was directed by an FBI agent in the Baltimore Field Office who was also a pilot … The Bin Ladin flight and other flights we examined were screened in accordance with policies set by FBI headquarters and coordinated through working-level interagency processes. Although most of the passengers were not interviewed, 22 of the 26 people on the Bin Ladin flight were interviewed by the FBI. Many were asked detailed questions. None of the passengers stated that they had any recent contact with Usama Bin Ladin or knew anything about terrorist activity.’

‘The rest of your points are equally irrelevant. You’re really a piece of work.’

Yeah, it wasn’t as if the U.S. currently deals with the Chicomms, secretly bombed Cambodia starting in 1965, supported a broad range of Islamist movements in Afghanistan, or supported the Iraqi Baathists after the Iraqi invasion of Iran.

Nope, no relevance at all concerning what sort of evil the U.S. is opposed to. Because when we support it, it isn’t evil, is it?

238 Brett Dunbar March 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Osama bin Laden had more than fifty half-siblings, most of them entirely innocent of any involvement in his activities. He was largely disaffected from his family. However in the aftermath of the attack there was a danger that some people might blame his relatives and seek some kind of revenge. So moving them to a place of safety seems an entirely reasonable act.

239 François Godard March 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Difference between #2 ‘rational) and #3 (fully rational) is unclear to me. And could Tyler avoid adjectives like “Lucassian” and “Coasian”? I’m sure the same information could be conveyed in plain English without Coweisms

240 chuck martel March 19, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Those words are the equivalent of a secret handshake. If you don’t immediately recognize the concepts they represent you’re not a member of the club.

241 kptsmplstpd March 19, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I think point 4 might be closest. Like the Sopranos family, they’re hard to predict.
Better keep those generals and defense contractors fed or be prepared to get stabbed in the back.
Combine it with flattery inflation.

242 Larry March 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Putin has a plan. This then that. The rest of the world is reacting. Obama doesn’t even want to react. Putin has pretty complete freedom of action, given how far behind the responses are.

The measure of our policy isn’t whether our responses are somehow proportionate, but whether we can formulate a plan of our own and change Putin from acting back to reacting. That requires us to formulate objectives and an appropriate set of actions to achieve them.

His moves cannot be comforting to China. We now have an opportunity to drive a wedge between the two countries, which will weaken Putin for the long term. Do they want him to regain ascendancy in Central Asia? That is one possible objective.

Another is to use this to strengthen NATO. If Europe feels a threat, they could undertake to make the alliance functional again, after its essential demise in the last years.

Another possibility is to somehow make this about human rights/territorial integrity. Much more tenuous, given the “complexity” of recent/coming events, e.g., in Iraq/Kurdistan, Scotland, Catalan, Yugoslavia, etc. Perhaps at least the UN could take up the question of under what circumstances border changes are defined as legitimate, whether they are devolutionary or expansionary.

Of course, these notions all assume that we are willing to consider having a “plan” in the first place. That requires a considerable leap of faith. Look at what happened to the “reset” plan. Oh well.

243 Shane M March 19, 2014 at 11:55 pm

Larry, your thoughts echo mine. As I think about this (and I have no particular reason to think I have any particular insight), I don’t see how this does anything except push Eastern European countries closer to the west, and even those that have no affinity for the U.S. would have greater distrust of Russia. At the same time I realize Ukraine hasn’t done well for it’s people, so in a sense the “alternative” to Russia likely isn’t all that appealing to many over there.

My immediate guess is the fractures between U.S. and Europe over things like Snowden revelations get subverted. I’d also hope that increased push for greater energy independence. Increased militarization by all involved is called for. I’m curious how China feels about all of this. I’m also curious if rebel areas within Russia would use the Crimea vote as a case to push for their own legitimate independence.

244 Larry March 20, 2014 at 2:45 am

I agree that these are reasonably likely reactions. I want to see the US stop reacting and start moving in a coherent fashion towards a coherent goal. I can’t see it from here.

245 CPV March 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Putin’s gain is not necessarily our loss. Also, not everything you don’t like is actionable.

246 Paul March 19, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I prefer Roman Plotnikov’s take.

The US supported a revolution in Ukraine. It should have stayed out of it and certainly not celebrated it. Think of Egypt.

If you were Putin and making Russia a great power again was your overarching ambition what would you do?

247 louis March 21, 2014 at 10:32 am

“If you were Putin and making Russia a great power again was your overarching ambition what would you do?”
Build up the economy by fighting corruption, loosening the control of the oligarchs, and cultivating the rule of law. Promote international trade in non-energy goods and services. Gain soft power by letting your neighbors see you as a benign, rule-bound, stabilizing influence as opposed to a threat.
Of course that’s less fun than playing Czar but more likely to lead to global power and influence over the next decade or two.

“The US supported a revolution in Ukraine. It should have stayed out of it and certainly not celebrated it.”
To paraphrase, If you were Obama, and preserving US influence in Europe was important to you, what would you do?

248 Max March 19, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I personally think the 2/4 mix is heavily tilted towards 4. And it’s not Putin’s personal fault. It’s how Russia functions. Take that Manifest Destiny mentioned in the comments, mix in the Orthodox religion that stimulates strong hierarchical relationships (btw, the strengthening of the church in modern Russia should be a strong signal to all of us – I’m just not clear what exactly it’s signaling) with the strong inferiority complex (Russian discourse is not complete without “look at France!” (1800s), “look at Germany” (early 1900s), and “look at America!” (1950s and after), and you get the fertile ground for Putins.

And, at the risk of sounding too hawkish even for MR, I propose that the only way to deal with it is to do our best to dismantle Russia. Break it up into little dukedoms, give pieces of it to China, Central Asia, etc. Otherwise it’ll create problems for the world for decades to come.

I’m really looking up to Elon Musk to accomplish the bulk of this task.

249 dearieme March 19, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Is it yet clear whether the story about Ukraine’s gold reserve being taken to the US is true?
If so the expression “mugs” comes ineluctably to mind.

250 JM March 19, 2014 at 9:30 pm

The crazy ones are the media for publishing the pics of Vlad with those saggy pecs….yuck!

251 a Michael March 20, 2014 at 12:39 am

5. The electoral connection: Like every good politician, Putin wants to stay in power. The Olympics are over, and the economy is going down the crapper despite the high price of crude oil. Well, what’s left to keep those ratings up? Nationalist appeals–get back land that all of your citizens think should be there’s and at a low short-term cost, create a common enemy out of the West, etc. Yes, there are some long-term costs to this action, but staying in office is the proximate goal that has to be satisfied first.

252 Sean Kelleher March 20, 2014 at 2:12 am

Given that I was shocked that Russia invaded Ukraine, I’m not in a position to advocate for a particular decision-making theory in this context. I thought that Georgia did not provide a sound basis for prediction, because Ukraine is much bigger, and more significant for the EU+US; and I thought that Putin would not seek a major confrontation with the West because it could jeopardize his domestic position.

However, I take issue with Tyler’s claim that NATO expansion provides a reasonable basis for Russian paranoia. Where is the evidence that NATO has offensive intentions towards Moscow? And where are the big investments in power projection capabilities that would make those intentions dangerous for Russia? For anyone who is interested, I have further thoughts here –

253 Tangurena March 20, 2014 at 9:07 pm

My model for Putin is our very own Theodore Roosevelt. Interested in power for the sake of power. Imperialist, racist and homophobic. You posted one of Putin’s “cowboy” pictures, and TR was the quintessential cowboy. Roosevelt pandered to the press, and if a journalist got off-track, their employer would be pressured to fire them – and this is one of the complaints of the Putin administration. Why he even panders to the plutocrats like TR did.

Future generations of Russians will look to Putin as the guy who restored Russia to “their rightful place of power”.

254 Brett Alder March 27, 2014 at 12:38 pm

It’s pretty complicated if you don’t understand value. Once you understand value, then it’s very simple: Vladimir Putin is human.

In fact, it’s additionally brilliant to act erratically so people are constantly questioning your motives and sanity and analyzing what to do while you’re seizing control over vast troves of value.

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