In his Mémorial de Sainte Hélène, v. 4, p. 133, Napoleon said, “I may have had many projects, but I never was free to carry out any of them. It did me little good to be holding the helm; no matter how strong my hands, the sudden and numerous waves were stronger still, and I was wise enough to yield to them rather than resist them obstinately and make the ship founder. Thus I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.”
Unfortunately for the West, Putin, who reads widely, seems inspired by Napoleon. In the sense of Napoleon, the victim wins. While the collegial style of Western democracy creates inertia, Putin is answerable only to the Russian oligarchs.
This flexibility, and relative lack of inertia, means the game in the Ukraine is not decided in favor of the West. If Putin can create conditions on the ground that can serve as a distorted justification for occupation, Russian troops will move. Bit unlike the tin-pot dictator, which Putin is not, he is not beholden to personal grandiosity. So there is nothing in his personality that implies he will do this.
An old communist joke explains our irritation. It is intentional. A poor peasant, sick of living in his hut with his pig, asks the commissar for permission to build a pig sty. The commissar replies, “I order you to take the chickens into your hut.” The next week, the peasant approaches the commissar again. “I cannot bear this. Please let me put the chickens in the yard.” The commissar now commands the peasant to take the cow into his hut.
A week later, the peasant, going out of his mind, begs the commissar for relief. The commissar tells him he can remove the cow and chickens from his hut. The peasant falls to his knees and kisses the commissar’s boots in gratitude.
There will come a point when Putin has extracted as many concessions as a mad dentist. He will turn the gas back on. From our side, there will be a sanctions deal. We will call it a draw. Putin will call it a win.
Note the assumption that the gas will be turned off. If the sanctions become too painful, he will stop the flow. The existing sanctions may be a sufficient trigger, depending upon their cumulative impact.
The Obama administration and NATO have coped well with Putin’s false flag ops involving Russian paramilitaries. Particularly impressive has been the West’s use of preemptive propaganda, most of it white, some slightly darker in color. But our hand has some strategic vulnerabilities in the area of gas supplies.