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Playing Checkers on a Chessboard.

datePosted on 12:32, March 3rd, 2014 by Pablo

So John Kerry says that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea demonstrates that it is acting “in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on (a) completely trumped-up pretext.” He goes on to say that “It’s an incredible act of aggression,” and threatens Russia with expulsion from the G8 and a raft of sanctions.

My oh my. I realize that an essential element of politics and diplomacy is to be able to lie with a straight face and turn hypocrisy into an art form, but this really is up there on the chutzpah scale. Has someone pointed out to Mr. Kerry that this incredible act of aggression has resulted in zero deaths, unlike, say, some other military interventions over the last ten years? In any event, such rubbish is about all that the US has left when it comes to effectively replying to the Russian gambit.

Before I delve into why Putin is playing a larger game while the US reacts and responds simplistically, let me ask a couple of questions. Does military intervention by an autocracy feel any different from military intervention by a democracy on the part of those being occupied? And if the locals welcome the intervention even if their government does not (and in Crimea both the regional government and locals overwhelmingly welcome the Russian intervention), does that legitimate the use of force against a sovereign state?

Putin’s move reiterates his resolve to protect Russian interests and ethnic Russians along its borders. Already proven in Georgia, this latest move secures Russia’s strategic interests by defending its warm water naval bases in Crimea as well as the local Russian population. If extended to Eastern Ukraine where ethnic Russians are a majority, it could well provide a significant, albeit riskier bargaining chip for the Russian leader. His time window is relatively short, but if played right the strategic gains for Russia could be significant.

For example, withdrawal of Russian troops from the Crimea and/or Eastern Ukraine could be traded off for more than the continuation of a pro-Russian status quo in Kiev. The Russians can tie such a withdrawal to better terms for the Assad regime in Syria (where Russian strategic interests are also at stake), and even more- favorable-to-Russia terms for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program (which the Russians have an interest in given the larger interest in maintaining Iran as a buffer against Western influence in the Middle East). The Russians also have numerous points of contention with the West (particularly the US) in its near abroad, particularly in Central Asia amongst the various “Stans.”  Any of these can be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations to secure a Russian withdrawal from the Ukraine.

The ball is the Russian court, They have presented the West with a fait accompli in the guise of boots on the ground. They are going nowhere soon and will not be dislodged by force.

Why? because after nearly two decades of continuous war the US is exhausted of fighting. GOP and Fox News chickenhawks notwithstanding, the US public has no stomach for another fight and the US military is suffering from a slow burning crisis of morale than has been seen in gross ethical lapses from command to barracks across all of the armed services, to say nothing of the 20-30 military suicides per month and the epidemic of PTSD amongst young veterans. The US may still have a technological edge when it comes to weapons systems and a more experienced combat force, but its strategic interests in Ukraine are less than those of Russia and its emotive stake in a Ukrainian conflict is closer to zero when compared with that of Russian troops defending their ethnic kin living in Ukraine.

Then there is the small matter of escalation should the US and its allies get involved, which given the relative stakes and nuclear arsenals sitting at the top of each side’s weapons pile, is as good a deterrent as any.

If the US will not respond with force, then no one else will. NATO troops will go on alert, but even an increased supply of weaponry or foreign military advisors to the Kiev government will risk Russian retaliation beyond what the Europeans will find acceptable. If the Ukrainians go to war, no one will come to their defense other than to provide covert logistics and intelligence. But that will not be enough to overcome the Russian military advantage, although it might raise the costs of it remaining in Ukraine for a long period of time. So counter-force is not a real option.

As for the idea that the CIA somehow orchestrated the Ukrainian uprisings as part of some master plan (a theory put forth by at least one Left commentator), well let’s just say that the recriminations with the Beltway about a lack of warning, to say nothing of this outcome, would suggest not. In fact, the contrary is true: given the ethnic tensions within and Russian historical ties to and strategic interest in the Ukraine, the failures of intelligence and diplomatic reporting when it comes to assessing possible outcomes have been major (if for no other reason than this is the stuff of basic comparative foreign policy research). That means that Western intelligence services also will have limited to no effective say in the eventual resolution of the crisis–they will just report on developments as they occur.

The Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (signed by the US, UK, Russia and the Ukraine), which pledged non-interference in and respect for Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for it giving up nuclear weapons on its soil, is a dead letter. It is not a Treaty and has no enforcement mechanisms other than what each country or countries choose to impose on each other. The Russians claim that the right to self-defense supersedes the memorandum, and that the presence of military bases and citizens in Crimea give Moscow the right to militarily intervene in their defense against Ukrainian aggression, even if done preemptively. In fact, if the Russians wanted to be really cynical they could invoke the “responsibility to protect (R2P)” doctrine that was used by NATO in Libya to justify its intervention against the Gaddafi regime (and R2P does not need UN sanction to be invoked).

Kerry flaps his jaws about expelling Russia from the G8 and imposing sanctions on Russian businesses. The EU makes lapdog noises about “serious consequences.” Does anyone think that Putin is cowed by those remarks? In fact, if anything the day of reckoning is upon Europe, not Russia. For instance, Germany is seriously dependent on Russian energy imports and has re-calibrated its foreign policy in recent years towards Russia. What is it going to do  now, abandon all of that in order to make a point about the Ukraine?

Diplomatically, Russia has the upper hand has the upper hand here and it involves (but is not limited to) its relations with Europe and the US.

As for the issue of economic sanctions threatened by Mr. Kerry.

Russian capital has flowed out of the mother country and is now invested–seriously invested–all over the world, to include places like the UK, Singapore, Dubai and the US. Are these states seriously going to consider freezing the assets of those who have made such investments? Will there be a united response when it comes to sanctions or will it be fragmented, porous and ineffectual?

Russia is not Cuba, South Africa, Iraq under Hussein or even Iran and North Korea today. Imposing sanctions on it is a far more difficult proposition, both in terms of getting states and private entities to adhere to any sanctions regime as well as with regards to Russian retaliatory capabilities.

Russian energy supplies are a lifeblood for many countries as well as Russia itself. States that choose to genuinely hurt Russia economically do so at their peril.

The UN will condemn the intervention and resolutions will be introduced in the Security Council to that effect. Russia will veto them. Nothing concrete will be done. If it were to get kicked out the G8–which is a long shot–then Russia can turn to the G20 for diplomatic support. Among its members are nations not entirely enthused about the US, UK and other colonial powers, so it is easy to suppose that its response will be lukewarm to any proposed sanctions or collective punishment.

Bilaterally, it will be hard for all but the most powerful nations to do anything meaningful to Russia. Perhaps countries will issue statements of regret and disappointment, perhaps even suspend talks on items of mutual interest, perhaps even recall or expel an ambassador. But symbolism aside, does anyone think this is going to sway Putin one way or the other?

Putin has a domestic constituency to consider. He may rule from behind a rigged electoral facade but he does represent a specific, and fairly broad constellation of Russian interests. These interests converge when it comes to defending Russia’s borders and near abroad, as well as Russians living outside the motherland. These constituents matter far more to Putin than the likes of David Cameron or John Kerry.

For all these (and several more) reasons, the Russians have the dominant hand in this situation. They will use it to extract concessions on matters of concern to them in exchange for an eventual, likely phased and partial withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. Their strategic interests will be reaffirmed and recognized by their adversaries.

Barring a miscalculation or over-reach on Putin’s part that would bog his troops down in a protracted war (which would inevitably be irregular, unconventional and asymmetrical given the forces involved), Russia stands to gain most from what basically amounted to a window of opportunity created by the Ukrainian uprising.

Policy-makers in Western capitals should have thought about this before rather than after Putin made his move.


55 Responses to “Playing Checkers on a Chessboard.”

  1. Chris Trotter on March 3rd, 2014 at 18:25

    Interesting analysis, Pablo. You might be interested to read this article from Mark Ames.

  2. Pavel Milukovich on March 3rd, 2014 at 19:19

    Hi Pablo

    Just wondering what ytour credentials to comment on Russian and East European politics are. I can’t find any evidence of your having taught or published in this area. I thought up to this that you were more of a Latin American specialist. I have scanned your blog and found quite a few mistakes when discussing East European politics (e.g. your calling Estonia a ‘neutral’ country) so I wonder if you could address this percieved deficiency by pointing to a few peer reviewed articles. Thanks.

  3. Pablo on March 3rd, 2014 at 19:27


    You are right, I have no friggin’ clue. When you supply a real email address and URL, then perhaps I will take you seriously.

    But please tell: what are your credentials?

  4. Pavel Milukovich on March 3rd, 2014 at 19:31

    Who is Chris Trotter?

    When it comes to Russian affairs I usually follow Timothy Garton Ash who has a more than thirty five year record of expertise in Eastern European politics and history. Here are his latest thoughts:

    He has yet to comment on Russia’s move of troops into Crimea but I think you will agree that his contention here that the EU can and should act is persuasive considering his extremely weighty experience with the area and its unique power dynamics.

  5. Pablo on March 3rd, 2014 at 19:46


    As for your link. It is a briefly interesting read but I disagree with its simplistic and binary views. Plus you challenge me on credentials and then use a journalist who offers bullet points as argument without citations to more credible authorities. Give me something more serious to ponder and I will take you seriously, but only under one condition.

    I have no interest in indulging someone who stupidly and crassly hides their on-line identity with crude russian misleaders. Henceforth, either be honest about your ID (which we hold in confidence) when you comment or go away. KP and I are not in the habit of providing contact info to the Russians, should that be your concern.

  6. Milos on March 3rd, 2014 at 20:30

    Thanks for an interesting read. You are correct to point out the US hypocrisy, and that Russia is in the dominant position in the immediate term.

    But not so long ago Russia had a friendly regime in place ruling over the whole of Ukraine, and now they are having to expend military energy and face a likely loss of international standing to retain control of maybe half of it or possibly just Crimea. Of course, this is still significant, but it’s less than the whole pie. Yes, in the case of an out-an-out war they would defeat Ukraine (which as you say would likely not receive much assistance from outside), but installing a more overtly authoritarian regime to rule over the whole place would not at all be sustainable over time. So overall, I’m not sure that Russia will emerge better off if we consider the Yanukovych regime as the baseline position.

    Look at Georgia for example… Russia now has complete control in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the remainder of Georgia (a former Soviet State lest we forget) is completely and probably permanently west-looking and anti-Russian. Thus, there is not much chance it can be brought back into the fold in anything resembling a consensual matter. So is this really a good outcome for Russia? Would they, for example, trade complete control of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine for a permanently nationalistic, anti-Russian and west-looking remainder? (Despite Russian media mis-representations of the protest movement, this is not presently the case.) And if so, have they really made best use of their position as the dominant power in the region?

  7. Pavel Milukovich on March 3rd, 2014 at 21:06

    Hi Pablo

    I’ve no idea who this Trotter is or why refuting his views is so important to you so I will just content myself to say “whatever”.

    As for Timothy he is a serious academic with multiple publications in peer reviewed journals. The fact that he writes for the Guardian is only an adjunct to that. With respect if you had a grounding in Eastern European studies you would know who Garton Ash was.

    I think it is important to ask for credentials, otherwise we risk seeing commentary become dominated by enthusiastic and well meaning but uninformed amateurs. There are many people out there with decades of study in Russian and Eastern European studies. It is to them we should be looking to for comment.

    As an aside I have every confidence that you are not providing info to “The Russians” by which I presume you mean some agency of the Russian state, and I wonder why you feel the need to deny that…? I don’t think anything I read or wrote can be implied as saying that.

  8. Pavel Milukovich on March 3rd, 2014 at 21:08

    PS: If you are planning to adapt a policy of allowing people to only comment under their real names perhaps it should be somewhere in the blog’s comment policy? Because I’ve just checked and there is nothing there.

    Or is this policy just for me, while others are OK to post under pseudonyms? Do you regularly check to ensure provided credentials are genuine, and if so, how?

  9. Wilson Ma on March 3rd, 2014 at 23:51

    The question in everyone mind in Eastern Europe, especially Poland & the 3 Baltic States is where the line on the sand will be draw. The recent history of Soviet occupation & present of large Russian population give all of them worry of what next. And it doesn’t help by the fact of the comparson to Munich agreement of 1938.
    Afterall are we really avioding a major European war here or merely delaying it?
    The myth of Russian military is that they can overrun the west in 7 days due to their size and the experience of the 1944-45. what not been considerred is the Russian Army today is not the Red Army of 1944-45 or even the highly readliness of Red Army of 1980s. Futhermore what the Russian trump card of trading Space to gain time, may not work on Anglo-American, French Foreign Leagon Army as we are forces organised to fight expeditional warfare. and it is very self-contain & mobile, we can make our way to Moscow a lot quicker and maintain the troop there a lot better than the German in 1941.
    So it is not all in Putin favour, it depend on the political wills in Washington & London and the reaction to the newer NATO member along the eastern front. If they intervern and call on the Article 5, it welcome to World War 3 and a new campaign medal to collect for us

  10. Carlos on March 4th, 2014 at 06:45

    In the States, Chamberlain and the costs of appeasement has already been brought up regarding US responses here but these positions have ignored Pablo’s reasonable insight into the cost to US hegemonic legitimacy brought by Iraq II.. we are not excited about engaging in another intervention. What’s the old saying about fighting Russia in a land war?

    Ukraine is the defining element of a renewed Russian sense of power and global presence and Putin’s interest in that is no secret. Neither is the West’s impotence. Pablo is correct about the costs to US cultural hegemonic legitimacy brought by Bush’s adventures in Iraq and on that extravagant foreign policy’s costs on the American psyche and the US military’s weariness (but not as weary as some might think). As a response, in part, the US military’s posture is changing dramatically (including strategic re-alignment of US military capabilities away from boots and toward over-and-under-the-horizon counter AA/AD capabilities). Costs and counter costs here are high. Turkey could be compelled to invoke the Montreux Convention curbing commercial traffic to Russian ports in “support of ethnic Turks in Crimea.” The US could park an aircraft carrier strike force at the mount of the Dardanelles, NATO could scramble, with permission, troops and airforces in the new EU member states of Poland, Slovakia,and Hungary, we could resurrect the US missile defense initiative, set up sanctions, collectively moon Putin. In response, Russia could cut off gas supplies to Ukraine (as it has in the past) but would also be cutting supplies to Europe, since the pipelines go through Western Ukraine. Russia could up the military ante and march west from Crimea … whatever (they haven’t forgotten Afghanistan and domestic politics in Russia are testy). Right now, Russia says they would allow negotiation for a new government in Ukraine if Yanukovych is allowed to return and a “legitimate ” process of establishing a new government is allowed to proceed. They may or may not be bothered by a Ukraine-EU alliance as long as they can keep Sevastopol. Avoiding and EU alignment would guarantee Sevastopol, so that’s preferred, obviously. Or, we could end up with a country of Ukraine and a new People’s Republic of Crimea and the Russians still keep Sevastopol… the scary thing is that a twitchy trigger finger could start a very rapid unraveling … Conventionally, Russia can’t take on NATO and the US if things got really frosty but then there are the nukes … what was it Kennan said about Russian neuroses?

  11. Pablo on March 4th, 2014 at 07:47

    It was an attempt at a dark piss take that failed. I apologize and have withdrawn the comment.

    Pavel: I object not so much to your silly pseudonym but your bogus email and URL addresses. If you read the comments policy you will see that you need to be honest about either/or.

    A knowledge of current affairs and a background in comparative foreign policy and strategic thought allows anyone to dissect the current situation. One does not have to be a country expert in order to do so. Ash is a known entity but his scholarship is less sterling than you claim.

    Your focus on credentials makes me wonder what sort do you have that gives you the idea that you can question mine? Anyone can post anything on a blog and readers are welcome to accept or dismiss the argument as they see fit.

    So do you have a specific objection or are you trolling? And if you could give me the context of the Estonia reference that you object to, that would be helpful.

    ps; your IP address says quite a bit who you are, and are not.

  12. Pavel Milukovich on March 4th, 2014 at 08:30


    My name, email address and use of a proxy server seem immaterial to the question of your expertise. It doesn’t matter if I am a tenured professor or a neophyte, that doesn’t make you any more or less qualified.

    Anyway, to answer your specific question: In your post ‘On Liminality’ you describe Estonia as a ‘neutral state’ in contrast to a ‘US ally’. Estonia is in fact a long time member of NATO which entursts its national defense to NATO forces (which in practice means the US). This is an example of the kind of mistake that even a 101 level student of Eastern European politics would not make.

    I’m glad you asked because this leads in to my wider point. You say that there are gaps in Garton Ash’s scholarship, but I wonder if you can substantiate that? Since he has been accepted for publication in extremely authoritative journals on multiple occasions I am inclined to accept his authority on this matter. It seems odd to me that you would be familiar enough with his body of work to be able to refute it if you lack such basic knowledge as the Estonia gaffe – and for that matter, why you would mischaracterise him as a ‘journalist’. I also find it interesting that when you thought Garton Ash was not an academic, you dismissed him on this basis, but now that it appears that his credentials on Ukraine are greater than yours you have reversed position and are claiming credentials do not matter.

    I suppose this is as good a time as any to say that my own credentials do not matter, since I am not actually presenting my own argument, only Garton Ash’s, which is expert, and contrasting it to your own, which is, as you have conceded, amateur.

    I realise the blogosphere can be valuable but I worry that it is part of a general trend of anti-intellectualism in which enthusiastic but often under-informed amateurs shout over and even displace academic analysis. It saddens me to see mainstream media turn to amateur bloggers for comment and ignore those who have spent years, sometimes decades in the field. There are any number of scholars with extremely deep research credentials in the Ukraine and Eastern European diplomacy who would love to be called on to comment at this point, but they are largely being silenced through ommission, and this saddens me greatly. If there is anything that we can learn from this crisis is that when the words of scholars like Garton Ash are suppressed in favour of the words of intelligent and interested but ultimately fact-poor laymen such as you.

    PS: Nowhere in your comments policy does it say anything about emails, URLs, or the word ‘honesty’. It simply requires that one act in a polite way and refrain from personal attacks, which I have done.

  13. Pablo on March 4th, 2014 at 08:56


    Since you clearly know little about me, I shall hence ignore you.

    You have yet to make a substantive critique of my views, rely on one scholar-journalist for your opinions, and point to one error in a post on something other than Eastern Europe from long ago–an error that you might have corrected at the time it was written rather than use it as the basis for your claims that I know nothing. Your attack on my credibility ignores the fact that the post is about the strategic equation in Crimea rather than a treatise on Ukraine. If you have a concrete criticism, say it or shut up.

    You could take a lesson from some of the other thoughtful commentators here. They do not all agree with me whole or in part yet manage to focus on the argument rather than my supposed lack of credentials.

    I agree that it is a pity that scholars get ignored in favor of talking heads. But I resent your claim that I am an amateur on matters of foreign policy and strategic thought, etc. Plus, I never claimed to be an Eastern European expert so your indignation is misplaced.

    You have falsely supplied identifying information. That is a banning offense. Should you persist with your attacks, the ban will be enforced.

  14. Tenno Part on March 4th, 2014 at 09:24

    OK Pablo, as you insist, here is my real name and email.

    Anyway, I would have corrected you re: Estonia but I actually didn’t read your blog at the time.

    I am not at all ashamed of ‘relying on one scholar’ for my opinions when that scholar is an expert on the subject area on which he speaks. Do you think it is wrong for me to defer to the knowledge of experts in the area?

    I wonder if you can substantiate your claim that there are gaps in Garton Ash’s scholarship? I’m very interested to hear them, because it’s quite a serious accusation especially for a writer who has been published in repubatable international scholarly journals.

    I have indeed offered a constructive critique that your analysis is inconsistent with that of experts in the area, specifically Garton Ash. I am surprised to hear you say that one does not need to know anything about Eastern European affairs to comment on diplomacy on Eastern Europe.

    I will say it for a third time since you seem to continue to have difficulty regarding my criticism. I do not think that you are an amateur in strategic thought, I think that you are an amateur on Eastern European politics and diplomacy. You didn’t claim this expertise, but when we comment on things we are uneducated on without qualifying our statements with our lack of knowledge, we are not excused because we do not specifically claim expertise. To comment in an authoritative way is to de facto claim expertise. For example, if I go around claiming I have diagnosed people with mental illnesses, it doesn’t make it much better that I didn’t specifically claim to be a pyschologist.

  15. PGM on March 4th, 2014 at 11:06

    Appeals authority and ad hominem attacks are not arguments/critiques but logical fallacies, Tenno.

  16. wtl on March 4th, 2014 at 12:23

    “I am not at all ashamed of ‘relying on one scholar’ for my opinions when that scholar is an expert on the subject area on which he speaks. Do you think it is wrong for me to defer to the knowledge of experts in the area?”

    Should really be:

    “I am not at all ashamed of ‘relying on one scholar’ for my opinions when that scholar is an expert on the subject area on which he speaks. Do you think it is wrong for me to defer to the knowledge of a single expert in the area?”

    Short answer: Yes.

    I have no expertise in strategic thought or Eastern European politics, but I do know that relying on a single expert in any field can hardly be considered an argument.

  17. paul scott on March 4th, 2014 at 14:41

    Wow, I saw a really nasty comment by Chris Trotter. These corrosive personal comments, but then that’s Trotter for you, Trotsking off to meaninglessness.

    I thought the comments by Pablo about the power of Russian and likely outome are real.
    I can’t see anyone going to war to enforce the Kiev people’s State

  18. Pablo on March 4th, 2014 at 16:16


    Chris Trotter has been civil on this thread. I initially responded in a very uncivil and rude fashion, channeling my annoyance with Pavel/Tenno onto Chris. That was my bad, not his.

    More generally, I am still puzzled as to why Pavel/Tenno would come onto this thread, attack my credentials without knowing them, voice a pean to one Europe-focused author, and never once address a substantive critique of anything I wrote.

    Worse yet, he accuses me of making an error in a previous post about Estonia being neutral as opposed to being a NATO member, which he offers as proof of my amateurism when it comes to things European. In his March 4 08:30 comment above he says that I made this error in my post “On Liminality.” I just went back and re-read the post and although I mention Estonia I make no reference to its diplomatic stance (see sentence one of the penultimate paragraph for the genuine reference:

    Given that he started out by using a strange Slavic pseudonym, fake email address and a non-existant URL in Russia, I am starting to think that Pavel/Tenno has issues beyond concern about my supposed lack of expertise in European diplomacy.

  19. Wilson Ma on March 5th, 2014 at 00:34

    I suppose that is the US & EU course of actions

  20. Chris Trotter on March 5th, 2014 at 12:42

    Happy to accept your apology, Pablo, and offer one of my own. Please, delete my earlier remark.

  21. Grant Michael McKenna on March 5th, 2014 at 20:34

    My understanding of the veto of permanent members of the UN Security Council is that a party to a dispute must abstain from voting, and that Russia is therefore unable to veto any resolution? [Article 27]
    Surely therefore Russia has to rely on China’s veto, and the question arises as to what China has been promised.

  22. Pablo on March 5th, 2014 at 20:40


    The Ukraine is to Russia what Tibet is to China. They, the US and the rest of the West understand that.

  23. Wilson Ma on March 5th, 2014 at 23:21

    actually very dirrent to Tibet and Chinese veto is not guarantee. They are probably will abstinent for the vote,

  24. Pablo on March 6th, 2014 at 09:45

    Wilson: The analogy was admittedly loose but my point is that Russians see the Crimea as historically part of Russia just like the Chinese see Tibet as historically part of China.

    Both you and Grant raise good points about the UNSC veto process. It will be interesting to see the wording of any draft resolution. But even if the Chinese and Russians abstain and a condemnation goes through–then what?

  25. Wilson Ma on March 6th, 2014 at 10:28

    Absolutely nothing, important lesson of this is it doesn’t matter that if you are a 3rd world fail state. As long as you keep your Nuke, you are fine. If you voluntary give up your nuke on the promise of anyone, especially the Yank, you are being stupid & deserved to get invaded.
    I think who ever believe the NPT & collective defence are fool.
    Get some nukes & ICBMs then everything will be alright.

  26. Chris Waugh on March 6th, 2014 at 16:04

    Pablo, I find your Tibet comparison to be a bit too loose. Crimea was historically part of Russia from the late 18th century to 1954, when it was “gifted” to Ukraine. Tibet was part of the Yuan and Qing Empires, but seemed to fall out of China in the intervening Ming. But Ukraine seems more like the Belgium of Eastern Europe, being from the end of Kievan Rus/rise of Moscow as the centre of eastern Slavic culture a frontier/battleground between Central European empires like Poland and later Austria-Hungary and Germany, Turkey to the south and Russia. Tibet never seems to have played such a role – being high altitude desert bounded by mountains, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as useful for driving cavalry or tanks over. Nor does Tibet have especially fertile soil allowing it to play the breadbasket role. On the other hand, Tibet does seem to have quite a lot of undeveloped mineral resources and the sources of so many of south, southeast and east Asia’s major rivers. I would locate China’s Crimea in its coastal regions, especially the disputed maritime areas/islands – just as Russia has always desperately lacked ice-free ports, and so many of its ports are so easily bockaded, China can only ship so much stuff overland, especially considering the topography, and its coastal trading routes are vulnerable. But that is all rather nitpicky.

    It seems to me that Putin has Ukraine and the West by the short and curlies. And when I read things like this: I have to wonder if the West is even in the game. Suspend cooperation over disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons? Yeah, real smart move.

    Wilson, I disagree on the important lesson this situation teaches. I very much doubt Ukraine would’ve been able to keep the nukes it inherited from the USSR, and in any case, even if it had nukes now, the sorry state of its conventional forces and its lack of money would remain its real problems. I think the real lesson is that Ukraine, having found itself in a strategic location between big powers, has failed to maintain its independence. It has plenty of other models to look to: Finland, Poland, Belarus, or further afield, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan (those last three being in much more difficult situations). But perhaps there’s a problem with identity? It would seem that Ukraine can’t decide whether it should throw its lot in with Russia, a la Belarus, or the West, a la Poland and the Baltics, or maintain a stubborn neutrality (at major cost during the war!) a la Finland.

  27. paul scott on March 6th, 2014 at 18:40

    Chris Waugh on March 6th, 2014 at 16:04 said
    including this :

    It seems to me that Putin has Ukraine and the West by the short and curlies. And when I read things like this: I have to wonder if the West is even in the game. Suspend cooperation over disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons? Yeah, real smart move.

    So I went over to the site advised by Chris Waugh and here is a quote from the article that is

    and in this article John Kerry said
    “We cannot, and will not allow the integrity of the sovereignty of the country of Ukraine to be violated,” he said.

    My take on this :
    John Kerry is going to protect the integrity [ as now Kiev controlled, Western allied ] of Ukraine, like how.
    You mean John Kerry is going to sort Putin out, and let him know that the Kiev liberals will be running Ukraine.
    This is as weak as Obama saying we will attack Syria tomorrow, maybe not. And perhaps another expensive Nato and Security Council meeting. We need to teach those Russia a lesson

  28. Pablo on March 7th, 2014 at 10:34


    You have not been blocked, however I see that your last comment complaining about being blocked has not appeared. I am not sure why that is although it could have been marked as spam and deleted (I had 5000 spam comments to clear this AM).

    This is what I have on my comment monitor. Your comment was registered at 10:53 PM March 6 NZ time:

    New comment on your post “Playing Checkers on a Chessboard.”
    Author : Tenno Part (IP: ,
    E-mail :
    URL :
    Whois :
    I see you are blocking my comments now, Pablo.

    So much for freedom of academic discourse…

  29. Pablo on March 7th, 2014 at 10:39


    Yes the analogy is loose. My point was not to make a strict, airtight comparison or analogy but to make a broad point about how Russia views its claim on the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

    In other words, if Russia annexes Crimea based on the results of the referendum (or even if the referendum never takes place), then the chances of it returning to the Ukraine are akin to those of Tibet regaining independence.

  30. Tenno Part on March 7th, 2014 at 17:55

    There was a much longer comment refuting your points that was also blocked.

  31. Pablo on March 7th, 2014 at 19:15

    Sorry Tenno, but I never saw the longer post. The Spam filter is most often crude but sometimes wise.

  32. paul scott on March 7th, 2014 at 19:36

    you don’t want to believe this, but, President Obama just came on TV and said that Russia must respect the democracy of Ukraine, the democratically elected leaders, I mean is that weak, can you remember voting last week Ukraine

  33. Pablo on March 8th, 2014 at 12:24

    it looks like US bureaucratic politics also plays into Russia’s hand. Although State and Congress want to impose sanctions, apparently the Pentagon does not want to jeopardize ongoing nuclear disarmament talks as well as the major supply running through Russia into Afghanistan.

    Without full Pentagon cooperation, any counter-measures will be no more than symbolic.

  34. Tenno Part on March 10th, 2014 at 09:21

    “The Spam filter is most often crude but sometimes wise.”

    I take it you are not interested in the longer answer then.

  35. EbolaCola on March 11th, 2014 at 22:51

    I really enjoyed reading your Post Pablo, I wonder if any of you watched the recent Daily Show episode where Jon interviewed Kimberly Martin. Here is a link to an article of hers

    Often when I visit Kiwipolitico and read the comments I see some sad person attempting to troll Pablo for sport :-(. I think Teeno’s argument attacking the academic qualifications of commentators is elitist and arrogant, you do not need to dedicate you career to studying a particular field to be able to make an intelligent and valuable contribution to a debate.

  36. Phil Sage on March 15th, 2014 at 00:58

    Chris T. That link of yours is quite a giggle. Check out the update response from that arch defender of the US defence establishment Glenn Greenwald.

    secret funding… announced via press release.
    Pavel links to a decent but hardly brilliant analysis worthy of such dogged trolling.
    This link is a reasonable realpolitik view

    I agree with much of your analysis. The new temporary govt made a fundamental error when they announced Russian was no longer an official language of Ukraine. petty spite will cost them a lot.

    The world awaits the reality on whether the mooted Obama/Merkel/Cameron “measures” will be anything that would give Russia genuine pause. The issue seems seriously complicated because Ukraine is 3 distinct parts. The transfer back of Crimea to Russia seems inevitable, tatar opposition notwithstanding. Based on the actions of those in Donetsk it seems likely the East Ukraine will follow. The only real questions now are whether Ukraine will maintain territorial integrity post Crimea removal and whether West Ukraine will move back to its Austro Hungarian heritage.
    Nato and EU made serious errors in believing Russia would allow Ukraine to stray so far from their orbit. I always thought the sensible long term strategy for EU was to treat Ukraine as being further along the same path as Russia. Meaning something that would not be considered for Russia in the multi decadal long term should not be considered for Ukraine. Membership of Nato being one of those things. For cultural and ethnic reasons more than politics.

  37. Tenno Part on March 15th, 2014 at 22:22

    “Move back to its Austro-Hungarian heritage”? What are you even talking about?

    Edit: Obviously I know about that heritage, I just wonder what the hell you mean when you say west Ukraine could ‘move back to it’.

  38. Phil Sage on March 15th, 2014 at 23:12

    TP. Part of modern western Ukraine, eg Lvov was part of the province of Galicia in Austro Hungarian territory. The remaining larger part of Ukraine west of the Dnieper, whilst obviously not being part of empire territory benefited from being on the border of that empire. Just like Gyor and Sopron in Hungary benefited from being close to Austria during communism. It gravitates more towards the West whilst the East gravitates towards Russia.

    This blog does not set itself out to be anything more than a place for people to discuss and debate issues of the day. You seem intent on nit-picking issues to attack the writer, not discuss the message. Chill out and address the substance. You will find this blog is actually quite well informed, even though the political views of its core writers are a bit suspect ;)

  39. Tenno Part on March 16th, 2014 at 05:35

    As I said Phil, I know about the heritage. I just wonder what you mean by “It will go back to its heritage”. Do you think west Ukraine is going to try to join Hungary or Austria? Please explain.

  40. Phil Sage on March 17th, 2014 at 03:01

    TB. Haha. Not at all. Meaning they are more western european than russian in outlook and conceivably would look to join path to EU membership. Putin is very much poisoning the Russian well with his behaviour at present and they can see how well Poland has done with its western focus. They had similar GDP per capita when Soviet bloc disintegrated.

  41. Tenno Part on March 17th, 2014 at 08:46

    You do realise that Ukraine has been going through the process of attaining EU membership for the last ten years?

  42. paul scott on March 17th, 2014 at 15:25


  43. Phil Sage on March 17th, 2014 at 20:35

    TP: You do realise that Ukraine under Yanukovych decided to go with Russian money rather than EU in late 2013 and that was what started this?

  44. Tenno Part on March 18th, 2014 at 09:14

    My point exactly. Your “prediction” that Ukraine will pursue EU membership is about as daring and insightful as if I were to predict that NZ will pursue close ties with Australia.

  45. Pablo on March 18th, 2014 at 16:07

    Meanwhile, while TP moves on to trolling a fellow commentator in order to prove his superior knowledge of all things Ukrainian, everything I argued in the post has come true and then some.

    Note to TP: get a life and move on, you have become a bore.

  46. Phil Sage on March 18th, 2014 at 21:07

    Pablo: agreed. I did hear though that Obama had threatened to defriend Putin on Facebook if he did anything else bad. The Russians named in sanctions are actually mocking Obama which is how seriously they take it.
    TP, my last word on subject. Your analogy is crap. A mildly better analogy would be if South Island split from the North and applied to join Australia. However in the real world it now seems likely Russia will be so intimidated by Western moves it will push to include Eastern Ukraine in Russia as well. The question is whether it will use military force in Western Ukraine or just gas to get its way.

  47. Tenno Part on March 18th, 2014 at 23:21

    You see, this is why I prefer informed academic commentary to amateur commentary. Academics rarely result to making ad hominem attacks.

  48. Tenno Part on March 18th, 2014 at 23:22

    “r example, withdrawal of Russian troops from the Crimea and/or Eastern Ukraine could be traded off for more than the continuation of a pro-Russian status quo in Kiev. The Russians can tie such a withdrawal to better terms for the Assad regime in Syria (where Russian strategic interests are also at stake), and even more- favorable-to-Russia terms for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program (which the Russians have an interest in given the larger interest in maintaining Iran as a buffer against Western influence in the Middle East). ”

    This happened, did it Pablo?

  49. Wilson Ma on March 19th, 2014 at 00:11

    TP & Pablo just put all the handbag away, let focus on the topic instead of the one-upmanship.

    The truth is Comarde Putin had invaded another sovereign country without any serious consequences. He see the US, EU & NATO are weak, divided, greed for money & gas and can be bought off indivdually.
    The leadership “West” are too self-interested to stand up for what is right & legal. The public have more important matter to focus on like the next season of “Real housewive of New Jersey” or “The only way is Essex” than to stop Uncle Vladimir drawing up the new “iron curtain”
    Forget about Crimea or Eastern Ukraine or ever the whole Ukraine. The Baltic states & Poland are next in a few years times with another lame pretex and we in the west will sold them out the same way we do.

  50. Phil Sage on March 19th, 2014 at 00:39

    Wilson – Exactly right. The parallels with the late thirties are stark. I suspect that actual members of the EU would probably be a step too far. British tornadoes have just been deployed there in a real sign of intent. Putin takes all of Ukraine and reunites all the former Soviet republics giving him power over vastly more energy sources.

    That would give him the place in history he now obviously seeks without really having to do anything. He gets to offer more cheap energy to Europe in return for control over their politics. It is true he could invade Europe with the withdrawal of US tanks but he would not be able to hold it. Why bother.

  51. Pablo on March 19th, 2014 at 07:51

    Tenno: You constant referrals to amateur versus academic demonstrate what a tool you are. I spent 25 years in academia writing on issues of comparative politics and international relations, 15 years in various forms of US government service on matters of security. You are just some wanker who trolls rather than contributes. I am sure your mama must be proud of that, as well as the fact that you pick up your own clothes and keep your room in her house tidy.

    As for my predictions–have you not read about the US-Russian talks on Iran and Syria? The status quo in Kiev may not change yet, but it certainly has been tempered by events.

  52. Phil Sage on March 19th, 2014 at 21:16

    now that Timothy Garton Ash is saying the same thing Pablo this will apparently make it true. ;)

  53. paul scott on June 17th, 2014 at 10:42

    I saw on Al Jazeera that the Ukrainians may be able to buy back gas sent to Europe which has passed through the pipeline.
    There does seem to be a price at which Russia will settle for gas, but it is going to be heavy. Does Europe really want another impoverished Country to support. If I was a German citizen I would be yelling schon genug .

  54. paul scott on August 3rd, 2014 at 21:49

    also further,go to any Russian Embassy site to read about MH17, google Russian Embassy.

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