Skip to comments.Putin's Chess Moves In Ukraine: Brilliant Tactics, But Bad Strategy?
Posted on 04/26/2014 11:24:22 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
The game of chess is a national pastime in Russia. And you might say that Vladimir Putin is playing a high-stakes game of geopolitical chess when it comes to Ukraine.
Western leaders are plotting how to counter Putin's latest moves with economic sanctions. So to get some insight into what might come next, we talked to an economist who knows Russia who is also extremely good at chess.
Putin Playing From A Weak Position
Kenneth Rogoff is a world-renowned economist and professor at Harvard. He was also recognized as a chess prodigy when he was a teenager and became a chess grandmaster when he was 25.
Back in his chess-playing days and later as an economist Rogoff made friends across Russia and Ukraine, including Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion who also ran against Vladimir Putin for president.
"Putin is playing from a very weak position," Rogoff says of Putin's game plan. "But he's very good at it. That doesn't mean he's not going to win. A really strong chess player doesn't need a good position to win."
Putin's position is weak because Russia's economy is weak, Rogoff says: It's too dependent on oil exports, which aren't supporting a decent standard of living for most of the country. Corruption is rampant, and most industries are not competitive with the rest of the world.
Most Russians live in near poverty by U.S. or European standards.
Russia has a large military, but an actual war with the West is extremely unlikely.
"It's going to be an economic war, [as] far as we're willing to push it," Rogoff says of this contest.
Putin's Style Of Play: Good Tactics, Bad Strategy?
In chess, you also want to know your opponent's style of play. So, what kind of player is Putin?
Chess players draw a distinction between strategy and tactics, Rogoff says.
Strategy is "where you're really looking far down the road: If I take the Ukraine, what does that really do for me? Does that make me better off?" he explains.
Tactics, on the other hand, "are very short-term ways to gain pieces and positions," he says. "He's a master of the tactics. He sort of sees a few moves ahead and he's very good at it. But what is the long-term strategy? It's really hard to see."
So far Putin's move to grab Crimea has helped and hurt him. It helped by making him more popular at home in the short term, the former grandmaster says.
But longer term, taking Crimea is probably hurting, he says. Nervous investors are pulling tens of billions of dollars out of Russia. Russia now has to support Crimea, and it is a poor region. The West is imposing economic sanctions, and if they haven't been tough so far, they may get tougher.
That leads Rogoff to think that Putin has not carved out a long-term strategy.
"I just don't see it," he says. "This definitely seems like they're flailing out, looking to try to grab some pieces, grab some territory, without thinking what they're going to do with it.
"Putin's Endgame: Russian Pride
So what is the ultimate goal behind his moves? Rogoff says, "I think there's no question the endgame for him, what he's looking for, is pride."
Rogoff thinks Putin is most interested in returning some greatness to Russia. He says, "I understand he has portraits of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great in his office, and I suppose he would like to have [himself] thought of in those terms of restoring greatness to Russia."
If Putin's weakness is the economy and his endgame is pride, Rogoff suggests the West should show Putin an opening, something bigger than a few pieces in Ukraine.
"The best thing for us is if Russia starts doing well and feel that they're benefiting from the world order," he says.
What moves should the West make to push Russia in that direction? Rogoff says world leaders are still trying to figure that out.
Weak position. Weaker opponent.
The Russian economy is taking serious hits.
Putin doesn’t care if he make his people poor. He can blame the US and his people will believe him. When have economic sanctions ever worked? North Korea? Iran?
Obama is weak but the USA is strong. One day soon Obama will be nothing but a bad memory.
As long as the oligarchs remain fat, dumb and happy.
I’m curious...I visited with a woman from the Ukraine going to school here in the US. She has parents and a sister still in the Ukraine and speaks with them by phone regularly. According to her, our news has it all wrong. The Eastern Ukrainians want to re-join Russia and have been begging Putin to come in and rescue them from a murderous Ukraine government. They all speak Russian and want to be a part of Russia, not the Ukraine. I was flabbergasted because it seemed so contrary to all we hear. Has anyone else heard such claims?
What I can say is that there is no animosity between the people of Ukraine and Russia. I don't know of anyone who wants a war. I have several friends who have family and friends living in Ukraine. They say that what you see on the news is much different than reality.
I would question news reports on BOTH sides. This story was posted by NPR. NPR is nothing but a mouthpiece for the liberal left. It's goal is to make Obama look good.
Putin is focused on the military viability of Russia.
According to their doctrines in that area, unchallenged control of the Black Sea ports is essential.
As in not optional.
As in Russia could fall to outside armies without this.
People who studied Soviet Doctrine during the cold war predicted this turn of events months ago as the European Union pushed Ukraine for exclusive trade agreements. I was one. Have another “I told you so.” Its free.
Yes, this is a topic that most people (even a great number of military people) do not have the training and the experience to comprehend. Hard to debate a topic beyond one’s scope. None the less, Putin understands,
and he is making the textbook response to the European Union’s moves towards bringing Ukraine into their sphere.
This is not about Putin’s ego.
The Russians would be responding in the same way no matter who was in charge.
Ukraine as an independent buffer state = okay.
Ukraine moving to allign with the European Union = not okay.
Now, there are in this mess people who want to see realistic chances for peace and an independent Ukraine. But they demand that the European Union back off entirely as well.
So here is my point to you:
Yes it would be a better world if Ukraine is free. No, people who are critical of the Russians alone aren’t helping bring that about.
Because there are exactly two ways the Crimean region winds up not part of Russia. Count them.
1. Ukraine remains an entirely independent buffer state not alligned to the western European hegemony.
2. Russia loses an all out war, and all her armies, nuclear weapons, biological horrors, assassins, missiles, etc... have been expended and were not enough.
Those are it.
There is no third way.
He’s seeing what the radar eared twit will do.
And it’s not like Putin is Stalin who could simply murder away his opposition.
He knows if he’d let Crimea go, he would be thrown out of office faster than you could say “Brezhnev Doctrine.”
Did you ask her what language her family speaks at home? I’m betting Russian.
I wish Boehner and McConnell had half the spine Putin has.
The day I believe anything from NPR, will not come in my life time.
“I would question news reports on BOTH sides. This story was posted by NPR. NPR is nothing but a mouthpiece for the liberal left. It’s goal is to make Obama look good. “
They do, just only against conservatives.
Well put. I couldn’t agree more.
The Soviets lost an estimated 20 million lives in World War II, roughly 10% of their population. I suspect recreating a buffer between Russia and the armies to the west is a major strategic goal. Then there's the matter of controlling the pipelines that carry oil and gas to large markets. It seems there is no shortage of long term goals available to the Russians.
If Putin was up against a master chess player, then it would be bad strategy.
When you know you are not, you can take an otherwise bad series of moves and checkmate the chump you are playing against.
Think of the times you played chess against a newbie and that’s what this is.
No, Sevastopol is not necessary for Russia’s defense. Russia is not under any threat of invasion from any outside armies, nor would losing Crimea affect their military posture to any great degree. Russia is bottled up in the Black Sea by the Turks. Russia’s naval power is focused in the Pacific Ocean. Crimea is a sideshow. This is not about strategy, it is about symbolism. Putin wants to pretend that Russia is still great like in Czarist times, but he can’t admit than the EVIL EMPIRE he loyally served destroyed Russia’s greatness forever. Many, many more Russians must die because of Putin’s insane dreams of empire. Putin’s nukes didn’t save his beloved EVIL EMPIRE, and they won’t save the smaller weaker Neo-Soviet Russia either. Terrorist Russia threatens the world, so it is Russia which must be broken up unto buffer states, not Ukraine.
"Putin's Endgame: Russian PrideThat says Putin is a dangerous madman, to be leading Russia in this way.
Now, now . . . under the new FR standard, presented by our Russian friends, we must be calm and reasonable and respect everything NPR has to say.
No they didn’t. Apartheid was going to fall one way or the other.
You can spew any stupid babbling you want all day long.
What matters here is what the Russians believe.
What the Russians believe is not a secret. Many of the books in the professional reading course for the Marine Corps taught their belief in some detail. At least the books that were on the list in the seventies, eighties, and nineties taught them.
Your theory, or anyone in the west’s theory is entirely irrelevant to what the Russians will do.
The Russians do not care what some western academic thinks.
The Russians do not care what I think.
The Russians do not care what you think.
Not even a tiny bit.
They are going to act in accordance with their established doctrine.
Tell me this, did you personally predict that the Russians were going to send a military force into Ukraine?
I work with a guy from Eastern Ukraine and what he tells me pretty much coincides with what you heard and posted.
Meanwhile, Barak Obama is still looking for his
ass with both hands and a flashlight.
Dude, I am far from being a military expert, but some of us were laughing about how Putin was waiting to do it after his Olympics.
Blue Light Special on a warm water sea port and arable farm land!
You don’t have to be rolling in dough to know ... now’s the time to fill your shopping cart!
Putin wants to be flattered. He wants to be told that he is smarter, stronger, and more important than he really is.
He can't give up Crimea because it would be too much of an insult to him personally and to his genocidal regime's imaginary greatness.
In the end, Putin is a little man with a serious inferiority complex. His people will pay the price for his hubris and stupidity.
Putin is playing Obama like a Pedophile with a little boy in the back of a van. However, the author has a point. Historically, Russians are not very good soldiers outside their own borders (they’re savage when you invade them). They believe the Ukraine belongs to Greater Russia, but Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland are foreign countries to them. Also, if we get a pro-American, pro-business, pro-freedom President in 2016, this could open up the American oil and gas fields and providing energy to Europe, breaking Russia’s economy.
We have a large community of Russian expatriates, Romanians, and Moldovans.
I work with two ethnic Russians from Ukraine.
They believe the central problem is one of economic opportunity.
Ukraine has never had an especially strong economy, and there has been very little recovery since the Great Recession in 2008-2009.
According to them, the Russians in Crimea and east Ukraine believe their standard of living will go up much more with Russia than with Ukraine.
Putin is a fish. Obama is a potzer.
Answer my question.
Did you predict months ago when the European Union & Ukraine trade agreement was announced that Russia would invade Ukraine?
You're right that seizing Crimea without firing a shot is of great symbolic importance in that it had the effect of galvanizing Russians behind him. The Russian people smell blood and they want more. But it was also a major first stage in Russia becoming a Mediterranean power by destroying Turkish power.
In addition to seizing Crimea, maybe Odessa and eastern Ukraine (that seems likely in the near future), Putin will probably take all of Georgia (he's already taken Abkhazia and Ossetia) and sever the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan pipeline, which will really screw Europe. He'll have Europe by the shorts. Then, he'll take Armenia (cutting a territorial deal with the Armenians and the Iranians at the expense of the Turks and the Azeris) and have the Turks surrounded from two sides, three if you count Syria.
The reduction of Turkey to a toothless rump state is the strategic prize. Crimea (and maybe Odessa), the Eastern Ukraine, and Georgia-Armenia are the strategic pivots.
And if there's one theme that's remained constant throughout Russian history the past 1,000 years it's the Slavs' struggle against the Mongol-Tatar (Turkic) steppe peoples who terrorized, raped and looted their lands.
Heck, this is more than strategic. This sh*t is personal for them. And Putin is doing an excellent job in whipping up Russian jingoism.
And the truth is that Obama won't do a damned thing about it. And neither will Europe once he seizes the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. They'll tow the line like the good little quislings they have always been, the contemptible wussies.
If I was Turkey I'd be afraid. Very afraid.
Do you mean to say when it was announced by Yanukovich that Ukraine would NOT be making a trade agreement with the EU?
You are aware that Ukraine and the EU did not make an agreement, right?
Actually Putin has emboldened the Turks and played into their hands by supporting ethnic separatists in the Caucasus. Turkey has made moves to establish relations with the Abkhazians because a large diaspora of Abkhazians live in Turkey. The Turks are who paid for the largest mosque in Europe to be built in Chechnya, Russia. Putin turned over Chechnya to the jihadist son of the Chechen mufti who is now establishing sharia law in Russia with Putin’s blessing.
Many ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian.
Good point — I over-simplified.
By the same token, anecdotal evidence is often unreliable; and data is not the plural of anecdote.
Canada has the world’s third largest population of ethnic Ukrainians (after Ukraine and Russia); and, they are amongst our best citizens. I wish Ukraine well.
Bad strategy in light of what? Economy or WWIII?
Like Obama is bad economic and vote strategy but a good one for destroying the country and totalitarianism.
I wish the Russians can reduce Turkey into a toothless rump state, and that Obama would do nothing about it. I wish.
But that won’t be the case. Obama will definitely protect Turkey against any possibility of Russian aggression. People need to remember that Turkey is an Islamic nation run by an Islamic fundamentalist prime minister who wants to revive the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is not our friend.
That’s exactly correct. The strength of Putin’s position is the weakness of his opponent. We have the most strength but a President without the will to use it. Very much like Carter and the Iran Hostage Crisis.
I think it's bad strategy. Doesn't Putin realize that any further moves against the Ukraine will result in Obama expressing "deep concern?" Does he really want to risk that?
Turkey is not our friend, indeed. But never underestimate the sheer wussiness of Obama. And the Europeans.
“I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.” - Barack Obama
Obama may be a wuss in a lot of situations, but I don’t count on him being a wuss when it comes to helping the Muslim Brotherhood... Just look at how Obama helped overthrow Mubarak and put Morsi in power. The top priority of the Muslim Brotherhood right now is to restore the Caliphate (most likely with Turkey in charge just like the Ottoman era).
My fear is that Obama would give weapons (stealth fighter jets etc) to Turkey under the presence of “containing Russian aggression” and being able to get away with it because of the lapdog media. Those weapons will one day be used in jihad against infidels (including both American and Russian infidels).
Yes, she speaks Russian. But, if that is the case, and they wish to go with Russia, what is the fuss?