Back in September 2013, in this post, I suggested that Russia’s President Putin had acted like a Chess Master to out manoeuvre the Western powers in Syria.
Seems he learned from that success and has again played the more decisive opening moves. This time in the Ukraine, a bigger chessboard and a game with much higher stakes.
As offensive as his action in moving thousands of troops into the Crimea overnight is to our Western Democratic sensibilities, he has an element of legality on his side.
The government under President Yanukovich as bad as it appeared, was the elected government. It was overthrown by a violent revolution, police and protesters were killed, property damaged, buildings occupied and public officials prevented from doing their jobs.
Our Western leaders loudly condemn, and sometimes take action against, coup leaders in other countries – when we do not approve of them. It seems we have a selective morality when it comes to approving of, or condemning revolutions.
How then can we complain when Russia chooses to side with what to them is a beleaguered minority, deprived of their elected government by an uprising and fearful for their safety?
Not that I am supporting Russia’s invasion of the Crimea. Far from it, I am just suggesting that the situation is a little more complicated than most people believe.
Will Putin put troops into the rest of the Ukraine? That may well depend on his assessment of the “consequences” that British Foreign Minister William Hague threatens.
While I suspect that Russia will not be aggressive enough to launch a takeover of the whole country, it would not be surprising if they did attempt to annexe those parts of Eastern Ukraine with majority Russian speaking populations.
It looks like the Crimean peninsula is lost, a result that may eventually prevent further problems for the new government in Kiev. A Russian move into Eastern Ukraine would create more serious problems both for the country itself and other countries in Europe.
Depending on their assessment of the West’s likely reaction, Putin could well put troops around the Russian speaking cities in Eastern Ukraine temporarily to extract concessions from both the new Ukrainian government and the West.
Those concessions could include higher prices for Russian natural gas supplied to the Ukraine and beyond, removal of the threat of sanctions proposed by the USA and even more favourable consideration of Russian interests in unrelated sources of disagreement like Syria.
For now the Russian Chess Master has the West in check, will it be checkmate when more Ukrainian cities have been lost like pawns? Or will the West be bold enough to protect the Queen of Kiev and the rest of the pieces not yet lost?
My bet is that right now it’s too close to call. My gut instinct tells me that this game would have played out differently if Presidents John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had still been leaders of their countries.
More recently, if either President Bush had been in power, Russia’s opening moves may have been less provocative.
I do not believe that the West will, or should, get into a war with Russia, the potential cost is too high, the outcome unlikely to improve the situation for the people of Ukraine.
However the Russian action is a clear indication that the USA is no longer seen as the only world superpower, the balance of power is steadily shifting Eastwards and Russia desperately wants to improve its standing in the ranks of nations that carry weight.
Interesting times ahead.