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Brainstorming about Russia and Ukraine

A few good reads on how to respond to Russia regarding Ukraine:

Admiral Stavridis (ret) makes the case for a vigorous NATO response in Foreign Policy: "NATO Needs to Move Now on Crimea. Action may provoke -- but so does doing nothing."

Steve Saideman: Let's Play the NATO Game 

Ingo Manteufel for DW: Crimea is Putin's bargaining chip. Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for the Ukrainian conflict is clear. As a result, Ukraine's new government and the West are in a dangerous jam.

Peter Baker in NY Times: Russia to Pay? Not So Simple

Not so good was this prediction:

Today, Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in a short commentary titled "The Brink of War in Ukraine?":

The country is considered essentially in a state of chaos, which presents a danger to the Russian citizens, compatriots, and military personnel in the territory of Ukraine. Thus, I would not rule out a military operation in Ukraine not limited to Crimea, but also covering eastern and southern regions of the country. The Ukrainian turmoil has pushed Russia to looking for a solution to the Ukrainian issue that would probably include a Crimea within the Russian Federation and eastern and southern regions of Ukraine forming a separate entity integrated with Russia economically and aligned with it politically.

Compare that to his op-ed "Why Russia Won't Interfere" published in the NY Times only six days ago:

Despite what some Ukrainians suspect, Moscow is unlikely to try bringing about the breakup of Ukraine in order to annex its southern and eastern parts. That would mean civil war next door, and Russia abhors the idea. Moscow's best option at this point is to stand back and wait, while quietly favoring decentralization in Ukraine.

(Emphasis in bold is mine)

What "turmoil" happened in the last six days to explain this change in opinion? No large scale breakdown of order and looting took place in Ukraine, not even in Yanukovych's mansion, it seems. Instead the violence stopped, when Yanukovych's ran away. (Or am I missing something???) Rather it seems what has happened in the last six days is that Olympics have ended and Putin has gone back to business.

My lessons from these two articles:

1. Shit is hitting the fan and political developments are fast moving.

2. Don't put too much trust in a predictions by experts. They are speculating like everyone else in a political crisis.

3. Don't make bold statements yourself, unless you are really convinced. Strong theses are popular with the press and social media. Resist the temptation, especially in a crisis. There is no shame in saying: "I don't know what will happen, but we should prepare for various options." In this case step-up defense of the Baltics, Poland etc.

4. Re-read "The Moscow Rules". I bought them on a magnet at the Spy Museum in Washington DC. Now they remind me on my whiteboard at home:

  • Assume nothing.
  • Never go against your gut.
  • Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  • Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
  • Go with the flow, blend in.
  • Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  • Don't harass the opposition.
  • Pick the time and place for action.
  • Keep your options open


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