A game is being played on the Russian-Ukrainian border

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For the past two months at least, US President Joe Biden’s White House has succeeded in instilling in nearly every corporate media its firm belief that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has made the decision to stage a military invasion. from Ukraine. Most of the articles published on the subject question at best only two things. When will the invasion take place? And how far will he go?


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Since the question of whether he will invade has been put aside, the pundits have been wondering another question. This concerns President Putin’s motives. Does Putin think he should overthrow the Ukrainian government and restore a friendly regime that will act as a buffer state between Russia and Europe? Or will he simply control the Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine, effectively destabilizing the current regime and thus preventing the possibility of the nation’s integration into NATO?

Given Beltway’s seemingly mantra that an invasion is imminent and the West insists on Ukraine’s right to do whatever it wants, including joining NATO, it was therefore surprising to read in the New York Times this week that the folks in the White House — in this case, people who are typically remote from communicating with the media — may have made a different assessment. In an article whose title “War May Loom, but Are There Offramps?” is an acknowledgment of the level of uncertainty that surrounds the current geopolitical impasse, David E. Sanger reveals that “even President Biden’s top aides say they have no idea whether a diplomatic solution, rather than conquering the ‘Ukraine, is what Mr. Putin has in mind.’

Like most Russians, and unlike most Americans, Putin knows how to play chess. Geopolitics for Russians has always been a game of chess. Curiously, Western commentators seem to believe that Putin’s game logic is similar to that of American football or basketball. They keep talking about Russia’s “playbook”. These are sports where you assign roles, plan actions and then try to execute them. No matter how complex the configurations, the parts of a playbook follow a logic of moving from the first to the second stage. Chess requires a different form and level of thinking.

It is reasonable to assume that the Russian-American AP journalist Vladimir Isachenkov has a good understanding of Russian politics and culture. Here is how he describes the current situation: “Amid fears of an imminent attack on Ukraine, Russia has further upped the ante by announcing more military exercises in the region.

Today’s Devil’s Weekly Dictionary Definition:

Raise the bar:

A poker metaphor which, when used correctly, means to increase a game’s initial bets, the amount that must be advanced by each player to enter the game. It is often mistakenly used as an equivalent of another poker term: call the bluff.

Context note

Isachenkov predictably foresees the invasion that Western authorities almost seem to desire, and not just in Washington. This week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson foresaw “Putin’s plan for a blitzkrieg”. Translated into German, it means Blitzkrieg, a term Johnson preferred to avoid using, although the insinuation was clear. The whole point of the effort to predict a Russian invasion is to instill the idea that Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler.

Russians, however, are not known to practice Blitzkrieg. Chess players prefer to patiently build their game through a series of maneuvers that contemplate long-term evolution. They challenge their opponent’s understanding of a developing situation and are extremely sensitive to the layout on the chessboard, with the intention of making checkmate inevitable. Americans, in particular, tend to strike and always hope for luck.

Perhaps because Isachenkov thinks Americans may not understand such strategies, instead of turning to the subtlety of chess for his game metaphor or even Putin’s documented judo experience, he pulls its literary inspiration from another quintessential American game, poker. He tells us that Russia has “upped the ante”. In doing so, he misinterprets not only the meaning of Putin’s moves but also the practice of poker itself. Isachenkov seems to interpret “up the ante” to mean “increase the pressure” or “increase the temperature”. He hadn’t realized that poker offered a better metaphor for Putin’s actions: calling Biden’s bluff.

No respectable Western commentator would frame the situation in those terms. To do so would be to acknowledge that the United States resorts to the vile art of bluffing. Bluffing involves hypocrisy. The United States has only one goal: to make the world fairer and to make democracy prevail. Secretary of State Antony Blinken defined the mission as follows: “It is about the sovereignty and self-determination of Ukraine and all states”, before adding that “fundamentally, it is is about Russia’s rejection of a post-Cold War Europe that is whole”. , free and at peace. And, just to clear things up: “It’s about whether Ukraine has the right to be a democracy.”

Isachenkov points out that Russia “has refused to rule out the possibility of military deployments in the Caribbean, and President Vladimir Putin has reached out to leaders opposed to the West.” He calls it “military muscle flexing” but perhaps doesn’t see it for the theater it’s supposed to be, coming from the president of a nation that gave us Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov and Gorky. Talking about the Caribbean is Putin’s way of alluding to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In particular, it may be intended to draw Americans’ attention to the idea that powerful nations do not look favorably upon the discovery of an adverse military nuclear presence on their borders. If John F. Kennedy could force Nikita Khrushchev back 60 years ago, Putin should be allowed to do the same with Biden today.

Historical note

If Vladimir Putin calls Joe Biden’s bluff, what is the nature of that bluff? Simply put, the Biden bluff is the latest iteration of what President George HW Bush, after the demise of the Soviet Union, proudly called the “new world order.” After defeating Donald Trump, Biden announced to his allies in Europe that “America is back”, which was his way of saying “my version of America is great again”, the version that uses his reach military to protect its business interests around the world. .

In a January 24 New York Times op-ed, national security expert Fiona Hill, who served under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, says Putin’s goal is not only to annex all or part of Ukraine. He does not seek to take a pawn or even a bishop. He has the whole chessboard in view. Hill is undoubtedly right about Putin’s real goal, which is that he “wants to kick the United States out of Europe.”

“Right now,” Hill writes, “all signs point to Mr. Putin locking the United States into an endless tactical game, pulling more pieces out of Ukraine, and exploiting every friction and fracture in NATO and of the European Union”. In other words, the current US posture offers Putin a winning hand (poker) or prepares for checkmate.

The former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who knows a little about the stakes linked to the war, makes an additional point concerning the nature of the risk for the United States: thought, if necessary, of the real consequences which will be paid on the home front. If events spin out of control, as they probably do if there is no diplomatic solution, the effects on the Western economy will be far more dramatic than any damage that can be inflicted on Russia through sanctions. .

The United States refused to listen to the arguments not only of Putin, but also of foreign policy buffs such as John Mearsheimer. They believe that even the daydream of tying Ukraine to NATO crosses the reddest lines, not only for Putin but for Russia itself. To disregard this while insisting that it is all a matter of respecting the right of an independent nation to join a hostile military alliance represents a position that makes war inevitable.

In a 2021 Geopolitical Monitor article titled “Do We Live in Mearsheimer’s World?” Mahammad Mammadov cited “Mearsheimerian realism”, which he said “sees the future of Ukraine as a stable and prosperous state as a ‘neutral buffer’ between multiple poles of power, similar to the position of the Austria during the Cold War. As a result, Russia is still a declining power with a one-dimensional economy and does not need to be contained.

It seems like a solution most people in the West could live with… outside of the military-industrial complex, of course. And Democratic presidents looking to prove they’re not weaklings ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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