I offer to my readers another way analytical framework for the current geopolitical situation..
Conventional wisdom interpretation
One analogy that is often used in foreign policy journals in the West's dealings with Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, is that while one side thinks it's playing chess, the other is playing poker. The implication is that we, the West, are playing the wrong game. An alternative interpretation is that both sides can get what they want, it's just up to each side to understand the trade-offs of its own strategy.
Here's the conventional wisdom interpretation. A recently widely quoted Politico commentary by Ben Judah about the Ukrainian crisis indicated that the West is weak geopolitically because it only cares about money:
Western leaders are stunned because they haven’t realized Russia’s owners no longer respect Europeans the way they once did after the Cold War. Russia thinks the West is no longer a crusading alliance. Russia thinks the West is now all about the money.Judah is right, the elites in the West does primarily care about money. How else do you think they got to be the top 1%?
Putin’s henchmen know this personally. Russia’s rulers have been buying up Europe for years. They have mansions and luxury flats from London’s West End to France’s Cote d’Azure. Their children are safe at British boarding and Swiss finishing schools. And their money is squirrelled away in Austrian banks and British tax havens.
Putin’s inner circle no longer fear the European establishment. They once imagined them all in MI6. Now they know better. They have seen firsthand how obsequious Western aristocrats and corporate tycoons suddenly turn when their billions come into play. They now view them as hypocrites—the same European elites who help them hide their fortunes.
Once Russia’s powerful listened when European embassies issued statements denouncing the baroque corruption of Russian state companies. But no more. Because they know full well it is European bankers, businessmen and lawyers who do the dirty work for them placing the proceeds of corruption in hideouts from the Dutch Antilles to the British Virgin Islands.
Mark Galeotti of NYU's Center of Global Affairs wrote in a blog post (h/t Patrick Chovanec) that Russia may be doing the Ukraine a favor by fostering an independent Crimean Republic loyal to Moscow:
Strictly from a coldly logical position (and I am not advocating this, I should add), in many ways it is in Kyiv’s interests for Moscow to steal Crimea, and turn it into some pseudo-state or new part of the Russian Federation. Ukraine loses a sunny peninsula, but also a distinct drain on the state’s coffers (the Crimean economy is not great, and the region receives net subsidies from the centre). It sheds the most troublesome and Russophile of its regions, one which has been a turbulent locus of trouble for Kyiv for most of post-Soviet Ukraine’s history. It also gets concrete proof of the threat it faces from Russian bullying and probably accelerated and solicitous assistance from the US, EU, NATO, etc. It also validates every Ukrainian fear about Russia.The post is well reading in its entirety but Galeotti makes a good point. If Putin wants the Crimea, why not let him have it? In the corporate world, this would be called "restructuring", "shedding underperforming assets", or "right-sizing". In other words, rather than allow a bunch of federal bureaucrats in Washington figure how to deal with Putin, why not let the market do it for us?
My American friends should imagine a scenario where a foreign power, e.g. Cuba, invades Puerto Rico. Yes, this the PR with a history of being a black hole of unsuccessful federal subsidies to foster industry, growth and employment. This is the PR with its teetering finances and near bankrupt status. What should Washington's response be?
- This is an unacceptable violation of American sovereignty and would be dealt with in the harshest possible manner.
- Thank you for invading. Please take it.
There are no right or wrong answers to this question. Just know that if one side is playing chess and the other poker, both can win. You just have to know what you are winning and what you are losing.
* Addendum: I had seen the $1 million expenditure figure in a documentary called the 10,000 Day War several decades ago, but I have been unable to verify that number.
Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). The opinions and any recommendations expressed in the blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and recommendations of Qwest. Qwest reviews Mr. Hui’s blog to ensure it is connected with Mr. Hui’s obligation to deal fairly, honestly and in good faith with the blog’s readers.”
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