Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Riddle And The Enigma

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that "Russia is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma". With the experience of World War Two, who better to believe than Churchill? With that in mind, I opine that Vladimir Putin is the perfect embodiment of Russian politik. 

That is not to say that I like or admire him. He is an egotistical thug. But then Russia isn't Disneyland. I can think of no Russian leader in my lifetime who was a kind and gentle man. It takes an iron fist and a will of steel to control a country like Russia. And it would seem that Putin has forced himself into that mold.

Putin is an educated man. He has a doctorate in Jurisprudence from Leningrad State University. I feel that his personality was more molded by his training and experience in his sixteen years as a KGB officer than by his education. I have no doubt that Putin considers himself, and is considered by other Russians, to be a patriot. He embodies Russia.

Where he becomes part of the enigma is that he is a very closed personality. No outsiders, and, I suspect, few insiders are privy to his thoughts. I do not know if Vladimir Putin is a card player. If he is, I would think that his game would be poker, and that he would be very good at it. Poker players look for "tells" from other players to help them figure out what an opposing player might have. If one got a tell from Mr. Putin, I expect it would only be the tell he wanted you to get to throw you off your game.

Mr. Putin is very much a private man. He gives away little of what he is thinking and nothing of what he is planning. He doesn't make a lot of speeches. He does not share grand plans with the world. He speaks quietly. He is patient. He waits for an opportunity and acts. When he acts it is from a position of power. Right now the EU is extremely dependent on Russia for natural gas. Putin controls the gas valve. The needs of the EU members constrains them from strong action with regard to the Ukraine.

Our President makes speeches but he has closed most doors of opportunity, such as the missile defense that was promised to Poland and the Czech Republic, behind him. A refusal to go to the G8 conference and ousting Russia from the G8 will only go so far. Putin values the Crimea more than the G8. Mr. Obama speaks harshly about the effect of Russia moving into the Ukraine will have on Russia's place in the modern world and the harm that will be done to Putin's personal reputation. I doubt that Putin could care less,

In President Putin's mind, his country's glory days were the days of the USSR. He wants those days back. He is willing to risk much to get what he wants. But no one will know what he has risked until he lays down the cards and rakes in the pot. This poker game is far from over.

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